Hi 22° | Lo -1°

The Cause: Student Government Advocate Mason Cole

Mason Cole, president of Dartmouth Democrats, has been active in politics since he was a sophomore in high school. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Mason Cole, president of Dartmouth Democrats, has been active in politics since he was a sophomore in high school. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

The Man: Mason Cole, 21, Dartmouth ‘13, from Westchester, N.Y.

The Cause: Working to elect Democrats locally and nationally, promoting and protecting voting rights for students.

The Means: As president of the Dartmouth Democrats, Cole promotes student involvement in local and national campaigns, encourages students to educate themselves about their voting rights and to get out and vote, and canvasses the campus on foot.

The Impetus: As a sophomore in high school, Cole began testing his political views by debating with fellow students at his conservative prep school in New York City. By his senior year in high school, Cole had set up the Young Democrats club at his school with a fellow student, and was working to get students to vote.

It was around my sophomore year of school that a lot of my views that I took from my parents, or I took from the media, got challenged. When I actually had to defend stuff — a big thing for me was civil liberties and equal opportunity — that’s when I actually became interested in politics, when I had to actually talk to people who didn’t share my beliefs. I would take the train every day from where I lived into New York City to go to school, and I would start a debate with fellow students who rode the train, and I would continue debating with them up until my first period of classes. This was during the Bush administration, so a lot of what we would debate about was national security and civil liberties issues and protecting the country.

Being in the political minority (a Democrat in a school where the majority were Republicans) taught me how to respect other people’s views and respect other people who were in the minority. That’s why my biggest goal is to get people involved in politics. I would ideally like people to share my views and see why being a Democrat is awesome and what Obama is doing for them. But I’m more concerned about people paying attention to issues and being cognitive about what’s going on and acting on it. I’m much more anti-apathy than anti-Republican. I liked being in the minority politically because it allowed me to learn more about my own views and allowed me to stress my own arguments. You can’t just make stuff up when you have so many people who are going to fact-check you when you get something wrong

I’ve been involved in (Dartmouth) Democrats for all four years, but this year is an exciting one, being an election year. When I came in ‘09, we had all these stories from older members about the ‘08 election, and how exciting it was. All the big events that happened on campus, etc. Since that all happened before I came here, I didn’t really know what to expect this year, but seeing Joe Biden on campus, it was amazing, it’s definitely a big change.

We’re still active (in local and state politics) when it isn’t a big election season, though. We’ve worked a lot in the past few years on voting rights. One of the biggest challenges for us has been the different bills that the New Hampshire state Legislature has been trying to pass limiting students’ right to vote.

A lot of these (national and state) campaigns have a ton of Dartmouth students working for them full time, part time, as interns, and as volunteers, and they’re really engaged. I see my role as president (of the Dartmouth Democrats) not so much as doing all the work, but getting students engaged in politics on and off campus.

The truth is, we know that most Dartmouth students are voting in our favor (Democratic) when they go to vote, and even if they aren’t, we still want them to vote, so a big thing we do is educate students about their right to vote, also getting people to commit to vote, and getting visibility for the down-ticket candidates and getting students aware about the more local issues.

I would point out (that) even if you disagree (with my political views), that there is a strong contrast between the two (presidential) candidates. New Hampshire has always been a swing state, a state where your vote could really make a big difference. ... Even if you politically disagree with me, there’s no way that you can’t take a position on some of these key issues. You are really squandering an opportunity to make a difference in this country if you are not voting.

Photograph and interview by Sarah Priestap

Published in print on September 30, 2012.


Committed for the Long Haul

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Like most photojournalists, I fairly often encounter activists of various kinds in my work. Whether they are picketing, petitioning or persuading, they are almost always passionate about their cause and eager to talk about it. So when I was asked to consider producing a biweekly photo feature for the Perspectives section this past year, I thought that focusing on activists, …