Step right up

Mike Hawkins

Photo By Tang Lor

He’s not a Chico State employee, but in a way Mike Hawkins works on campus. Just about every day, Hawkins can be seen either on the north or south end of the breezeway (the Meriam Library walkway) asking anyone who passes if they’re registered to vote. Hawkins, a political activist for the California Democratic Party, chose the campus as his worksite because there he finds large numbers of people not registered to vote or not registered at their present address … and a high percentage of Democrats. Even if people don’t stop for him, Hawken’s ironing board is enough to draw attention. The ironing board may seem a bit odd, but it’s simply a portable table—the perfect height for a job that has to be done standing up.

Your sign says, “Democrats register to vote here.” Are you really restricting registration to Democrats, or can anyone register?

The law says anyone who wants to register to vote can register to vote regardless of party.

How do you get students to stop and register?

You announce your presence vocally. You have to speak out to people. You have to yell at people the same way a carnival barker does.

How do people usually respond?

There’s great range, but overwhelmingly it’s indifference. But I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the few who need to register to vote as a Democrat. I’m not rattled because people ignore that I’m here, because not everyone does. We’re not interested in the inconsequential. We’re interested in the consequential.

What’s the strangest response you’ve had from people passing?

Occasionally I’m asked where Republicans register to vote. [Pause] The Ku Klux Klan meetings. [Leaning closer to the recorder] Did I say that loudly where you heard me? At the Ku Klux Klan meetings.

What’s the toughest part of your job?

Sometimes explaining the electoral process to people who are unfamiliar with it is a little difficult. People’s tendency to think they know when they don’t is a little difficult. Sometimes they won’t listen. If you listen, I can give you options you didn’t have already. If you think you know everything already, well, what else can I say? But I’ve done it for a long time, so there’s much emotional satisfaction in it as well. But really this is just part of my job. It’s only the part that the public sees.

So what else do you do?

Well, I raise political money. And I consult with candidates, and I help people run their campaigns. I help target bulk mail to different demographic groups that get different kinds of mail. And I talk to the local press in matters that don’t involve me as a personality but what my work is. So it’s a lot of grassroots political activity all going toward Election Day.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Your readership should vote like Democrats so they can live like Republicans.