This June, Western alumna April Barker, along with her completely student-led campaign team, will be heading door-to-door in Bellingham in order to campaign and fundraise for her spot on the Bellingham City Council.
The unusual decision to let students have so much influence in her campaign came after meeting Western’s Vice President for Governmental Affairs Sarah Kohout at the National Women’s Political Caucus candidate training, where Kohout made a lasting impression, Barker said in an email.
After deciding to run, having a student-run team was the first thing that came to mind, she said.
“Students always bring a fresh perspective and energy to the things they get involved in,” Barker said. “We received an amazing response after we posted our request and are very excited to see that students want to be engaged in the political process.”
Senior Cloie Chapman, a Fairhaven student, received and responded to a mass email from the political science department which documented the need for student campaigners.
A day later, Chapman got a phone call from Barker. A week later, the two made plans to meet.
Chapman said her and Barker immediately clicked.
“[Barker] knows what a good resource Western is,” Chapman said. “We are all being trained in [the campaign process] formally. To give us the opportunity to practice it is something she saw that was beneficial.”
Barker, who is running unopposed, aims to fill the position of departing city council member Jack Weiss in the November elections. Barker said having no opponent gives her team an opportunity to run a more creative campaign.
“[Running unopposed] allows for a lot more community organization. I have really appreciated the students’ professionalism, dedication and patience,” Barker said. “Being a new candidate, I am learning right along with them.”
Barker said in addition to the campaign manager, she hopes to also have around seven students fill the other roles of fundraising chair, volunteer coordinator and other positions.
Chapman said she enjoys the leadership opportunities being a campaign member offers. Once the kick-off for elections begins, the team will be working on creating a guest list, decorations and planning, Chapman said.
Campaign consultant Iris Maute-Gibson will act as a mentor for Barker and the students through the campaign. In the coming weeks, the students will officially be assigned roles in accordance to their skills, Maute-Gibson said.
“As a Western graduate myself, I know first hand how deeply students who may have only lived in Bellingham for two or three years care about this community,” Maute-Gibson said. “[They] care about the legacy that we’re leaving for future generations.”
Barker’s grass roots campaign was largely dependent on door-to-door canvassing, which will be something she guides students through for Barker’s campaign when they begin in June, Maute-Gibson said.
Senior Sara Murphy, one the students on the team, hopes to eventually run for office herself, and thinks working on Barker’s campaign will be a step in the right direction.
“In elections you usually just see what the media portrays, but you don’t see all the behind-the-scenes things, which is a lot of work,” Murphy said. “I’m prepared to get my hands dirty and be involved. It should be a lot of fun.”
Barker is currently the president of the Birchwood Neighborhood Association and volunteers throughout the community. She also owns Northwest Muscle Mechanics, and has been a resident of Bellingham for 16 years, according to a press release.
Chapman said she will have to place attending Bellingham City Council meetings on her agenda.
“I have only been voting for two years, so I haven’t gotten to experience a lot of that,” Chapman said. “I learn about it in class, but to actually see it in action will be really cool; just that high pressure, ‘this is it’ stuff.”
Maute-Gibson hopes including students in the local government and political process will provide them with experience that they can use in future jobs. Students have the ability to leave a lasting impression, she said
The students’ will work until the November elections to fundraise, plan, and doorbell throughout the community.