Rushing from the voter registration table that she was running, Naava Ellenburg arrives at the Milstein lobby dressed head to toe in patriotic gear, red and blue scrunchies in her hair and wearing a t-shirt that says “In Women We Trust.” . Perhaps more striking than her unapologetic love of country, however, is her beaming positivity and politician-esque ease. Opting to move to the Barnard Lawn, Ellenburg tells me how she is spending her Tuesday, which also happens to be National Voter Registration Day. “I’m supposed to be nonpartisan until 6 p.m today, but I’ll make an exception for you,”’ she says,, explaining her duties as Vice President of ColumbiaVotes“Pessimism doesn’t drive people to the polls in the same way optimism does,” she tells me, explaining how she remains so bubbly after a long day registering people to vote. “This is how we fix the things that are broken.” Optimism seems to be more than just a political technique for Naava, but the spark that has ignited her unconventional path towards success. And with seven-plus years of experience in canvassing, it’s safe to say that Naava is no stranger to the pavement pounding lifestyle it takes to graduate a year early. Naava, however, doesn’t view her decision or the steps she had to take to get here, (including taking a heavy summer course load), as a sacrifice. “I want to be going out and doing things,” she explains, exuding a sense of urgency and excitement. “2020 is a huge year. I wanna be an adult and work in politics already”.
Illustration by Lea Broudo
Naava’s post-graduation dream is to work for Elizabeth Warren, a campaign in which she is already incredibly involved. Naava is one of the lead student organizers for “Barnard For Warren”, an on-campus group dedicated to garnering support for the Warren campaign both at Columbia University and throughout the greater Morningside Heights community. She is also an active member of “New York City for Warren”, the group responsible for the 20,000 plus people that attended Warren’s speech in Washington Square Park. Fittingly, Naava’s role for the event was to hype up the crowd and keep the famously long Warren selfie line engaged throughout the night. And before I could even ask, Naava assured me that she didn’t leave before getting her selfie.
While the dream is to work on the Warren campaign, Naava’s dedication is not to any one candidate, but to restoring the same hope she feels to the American people. “When people ask me, ‘well what if she doesn’t win the primary?’ my response is, ‘well I guess I am doing a senate race,” Naava explains. “At this moment, I have no roots anywhere. Campaigns are powered by young people who are willing to work for not a lot of money, not get a lot of sleep, and who are willing to live in a random state. And right now, I just wanna be working for something I care about.”
As the interview neared its end, I began to thank Naava for her time when she interrupted me: “My thanks come from someone saying I’m gonna vote for Elizabeth Warren, or just I’m gonna go out and vote.” This thankless dedication and overwhelming enthusiasm perfectly represents Naava’s atypical approach to college. She doesn’t crave recognition, she craves change, and is not afraid to risk it all to achieve this goal. No matter what campaign Naava is working on or what random state she is living come May, I have no doubt that she will take her boundless positivity with her. I am thankful to have gotten the opportunity to get to know Naava, but if you want to thank Naava for all that she has done for both Columbia and our country, I suggest you go out and vote.