The Trinity Reporter Fall 2004
Out to Change the World
Isaac Goldstein ’05

SGA president studies politics close up

by Christine Palm
Photographs: Gary Payne

  Isaac Goldstein ’05


Making the cover of a large regional weekly is a big deal to any public figure, but when you’re a 22-year-old college senior, it’s huge. Nevertheless, Trinity senior Isaac Goldstein takes it pretty much in stride, and when San Diego’s City Beat magazine featured him and his fellow grassroots political campaigners on its front page, Goldstein deflected the praise.

“I’m glad of the coverage because it shines the spotlight on our cause,” he says matter-of-factly.

His cause is the candidacy of Senator John Kerry in the upcoming presidential election. Goldstein, who is majoring in American studies with a minor in writing and rhetoric, spent the summer in San Diego as head of field campaigning for the Democratic National Committee. Goldstein is one of five directors supervising the 40 canvassers in the door-to-door fundraising operation.

“The pace has been totally wacky,” Goldstein says of the campaign headquarters “war room” over the summer. “The goal is to raise $250,000 in San Diego, and so we work pretty much around the clock. Coming from the East Coast, I got my first sight of the Pacific Ocean three weeks ago, but haven’t really had much chance to swim in it.”

Politics at the dinner table
Originally from Amherst, Massachusetts, Goldstein comes from a long line of pacifists and peace activists. His mother is an ordained United Church of Christ minister, and he describes his father as “a lay Jew who attends both church and synagogue.” He readily admits his political activist streak came from them.

“My parents were always devoted to liberal causes: anti-nuke, community organizing, Amnesty International,” Goldstein recalls. “Politics has always been dinner table conversation, so naturally it’s in my blood. My mixed religious upbringing has been a catalyst—I feel I’ve gotten the best of both traditions. Basically, this means I have a perspective that’s different from many other people on what it means to be a religious person. That kind of spirituality has made me more civic-minded.”

It’s also made him more determined to use his brains and energy to change things he sees as wrong.

“I’m mindful that, as a white male, I’m not an outsider; still, I do identify with people who are marginalized.” One could say that includes political minorities, as well. Goldstein worked for the Green Party in Paris during his sophomore semester abroad. He wrote daily media reports for the group after digesting news “that was germane—issues that were important for the Green Party, like genetically modified foods, for example.”

These days, Goldstein sees this presidential election as being central to the issues of “outsiders.”

“This San Diego organizing job is stressful and it’s a lot of responsibility, but I really want to be on the front lines. There are lots of routes to do that, and this is a good way to combine my thirst for an adventure with this campaign. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had gone through the summer without trying.”

When not trying to raise money for the Democrats, Goldstein is hard at work on the Trinity campus putting his beliefs into practice. He volunteers with several environmentally oriented programs, including one that encourages campus-wide recycling. And this fall he is working as a mentor in the Praxis program, a residentially based community-service program. Under the tutelage of Professor Fred Pfeil, Goldstein will help incoming students acclimate to the program, which includes such community-based activities as baking pies for the homeless as well as supporting the Hartford chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families.

“Praxis is a great program, and I am conducting some really interesting research into the effects of global capitalism in its many forms,” says Goldstein. “Praxis has never done a first-year program before and I’m really excited about that.”

If Goldstein’s home life instilled in him his activist values, it was through Praxis, and especially the mentorship of alumnus Ben Davis ’02, that he honed them.

“Ben took me to my first WTO protest in New York,” Goldstein says, speaking of the World Trade Organization rally as an initiation, as another student might talk of a fondly remembered first rock concert. While Goldstein admits he likes a good time as much as anyone his age, he sees no real point in pursuing fun without something meaningful behind it.

  Isaac Goldstein ’05


“To be honest, I don’t surround myself with people who don’t care about changing the world,” he says. “Politics doesn’t necessarily affect young people at the core—you don’t really understand how taxes work, for example, unless you’re forced to pay them. But since I’ve been canvassing, I’ve met a lot of people who hadn’t cared about these sorts of issues until Governor Schwarzenegger raised school tuition.”

For Goldstein, who was nominated for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship for civic-mindedness and will serve as president of the student government this academic year, there is cause to be optimistic.

“This election is doing so much for our generation’s political activism,” he says. “I credit Howard Dean with much of that. And now that the draft is not out of the question, people my age are consistently more and more worried about it. Dean capitalized on something young people were already feeling. Really interesting things are happening with young people and politics.”

Learning Arabic
Again, his own multifaceted heritage comes into play; he is learning to speak Arabic.

“One of my professors, Ray Baker, said that as students, we’re preparing ourselves to be in the right position to act. Take the Middle East, for instance. I believe I have an obligation to learn the language because we, as Americans, have such influence there. I think any responsible citizen would consider doing that. Plus, I happen to love languages and thought it was time to learn another.” (He already speaks French fluently.)

Goldstein’s activism carries into nearly every aspect of his life. When he wanted to play a serious sport that didn’t require varsity-level skills, he helped form an Ultimate Frisbee team in his first year at Trinity. Not surprisingly, he was captain that first year.

“Well, it was no big deal,” he says with characteristic evenness. “My high school team placed third nationally in a competition, so it was a natural step for me.”

What’s the next step?

“I’d love to do some advanced study,” he says. “Basically, I love school. I can see myself getting a doctorate in political science. I’m pretty sure I want to be in politics because I am something of a firebrand. I’m a ‘West Wing’ fanatic—I love the characters; they’re brilliant, move quickly, and accomplish great things.”





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