06/07/07 — ECU student part of national efforts for Barack Obama

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ECU student part of national efforts for Barack Obama

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 7, 2007 1:45 PM

Even before Barack Obama became a presidential candidate, Nathan Lean's interest in supporting the senator had already been sparked.

By the time the two met at a South Carolina town hall meeting in April, Lean had launched the Web site rockwithbarack.com and was working on a grassroots voter registration campaign.

The encounter was brief, but memorable.

"It was really great," Lean recalls. "He's the type of guy that, it's almost like when you talk to him, you feel like you've known him a long time because he's so engaged in the conversation. He's actually in the moment with you. He responded well."

Growing up Lean's political interests were kept guardedly private.

"It was kind of a personal thing," he said. "You vote for who you vote for and that's it."

Now 22 and "smack dab in the middle" of the most under-represented group that will vote, the 18- to 35-year-olds, Lean says he avidly reads up on the candidates and where they stand on issues.

The senior music major at East Carolina University has also had opportunities to hear what his peers in other countries think. Last summer, he studied and performed in Morocco -- encountering a variety of cultures, religious and political beliefs. Witnessing how others view America and its government caused him to take note.

By December, Lean had begun sharing his own political commentary on the Internet, through "Facebook," targeted at high school and college students as a way to exchange information and stay in touch with friends after they go off to school, he said.

The concept of rockwithbarack.com related more to support and sharing than music, he says, although at some point that might also be incorporated. With blogs and links for individuals and groups to share their political thoughts, the effort drew a steady audience.

When Obama announced his candidacy Feb. 10, the numbers on the Web site started skyrocketing, Lean said.

"When people realized this was something that was really going to happen, they joined," he said. "I started thinking, this is something that can't just remain stagnant. Either I abandon it or turn Internet enthusiasm into online activism."

A board of directors from across the country was formed to head up efforts. The Web site also expanded and went national.

When anyone logged onto a Google search for Obama, Lean's site was among the ones that popped up. Membership climbed, prompting him to consider the next step.

"It became crucial that we refine our message other than serving as a magnifying glass (of what Obama was doing) because his campaign is already doing that," he said.

His thoughts kept returning to one thing -- a video he had seen online of Obama standing in a New Hampshire cafe, sleeves rolled up, talking about returning to the community after graduating from Harvard Law School. The fledgling politician had launched a voter registration campaign in Chicago, enlisting 150,000 new voters.

"That struck a cord in me. Suddenly I knew how we could connect the dots," Lean said. "Students, young people that are enthusiastic about Obama could make a difference as they register, make it to the polls and vote."

South Carolina was targeted, with the goal to register 10,000 new voters before the end of the year. Lean's summer is being consumed traveling there to motivate others.

He sent a proposal to Obama for America, the official campaign based out of Chicago, explaining the effort. They were not only receptive to the idea, he said, but willing to assist.

Last week, Lean traveled to Columbia to meet with Obama's state staff and work out details to "mobilize a large number of people," he said.

More meetings with the candidate's national staff are planned as the campaign unfolds, with efforts geared toward colleges and universities, as well as high school students eligible to vote in 2008.

The whole thing can be a little daunting at times, Lean said, so he tries not to think in such grandiose terms.

"We're going to do whatever we can do to benefit Barack Obama," he said. "If they want us to dress up in goofy costumes on Berkeley Boulevard, we'll do it. Fortunately for us, they feel like voter registration in South Carolina will be very beneficial."