Meet Shayna Jaskolka, the UI student collecting presidential candidate signatures on her jean jacket

Beto O’Rourke signs Shayna Jaskolka’s jean jacket after Political Party Live at Raygun in Cedar Rapids. Friday, March 15, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

At a distance, the Sharpie marks on University of Iowa freshman Shayna Jaskolka’s denim jacket look random. But up close, it becomes obvious they’re autographs. And not random autographs — the signatures belong to six of the 2020 Democratic candidates for president, and Jaskolka is planning to collect more.

It started in February. A friend invited Jaskolka to a reception for Sen. Cory Booker at Mickey’s Pub in Iowa City, after the New Jersey Democrat’s Feb. 8 appearance at the African American Museum in Cedar Rapids.

“I was told it was going to be a small group, but it turned out to be a big thing,” Jaskolka said. She did get a chance to talk one-on-one with Booker, and at the end of their conversation, the senator, who had been signing autographs for many of the people at the reception, asked Jaskolka if she wanted him to sign her jacket.

“OK,” she said “Sure, why not?”

“The next day I kind of regretted it,” Jaskolka said. “This jacket’s always been my protest jacket — I have my political buttons on it and I wear it to protests — but I can also remove the buttons and wear it to work. I couldn’t do that with the signature.”

“But then I thought, I’m seeing Elizabeth Warren tomorrow. I’ll have her sign it.”

Since Sen. Warren signed Jaskolka’s jacket, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang and Beto O’Rourke have added their names.

Jaskolka would be attending candidate events even if she hadn’t started collecting autographs. A double major in political science and dance, she’s been keenly interested in politics since 2016. Specifically, March 15, 2016.

Jaskolka had been paying attention to that year’s presidential election, although she hadn’t attended any candidate events in Iowa. March 15 sharped her interest. On that day, Donald Trump won a crushing victory in the Florida Republican primary.

“I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, Trump has a chance,’” Jaskolka recalled. “I thought, this country’s going to a bad place.”

She began reading more about politics, discussing issues on social media. But it wasn’t until after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018 that Jaskolka became politically active. A senior at City High School, she became one of the founding members of Students Against School Shootings and helped organize its protests.

After graduating from City last May, Jaskolka remained active, working with NextGen America over the summer and fall to register young voters for the midterm elections.

This year, she’s determined to attend as many candidate events as possible.

“I want to see if they are really genuine when they talk about what they want to do,” she said. “I usually go up and ask them a question about something they didn’t talk about — a really polarizing issue, to see what their plans are.”

Shayna Jaskolka speaking with Andrew Yang at Prairie Lights. March 13, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Jaskolka’s standard question is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue she’s passionate about.

“It’s something a lot of candidates don’t talk about, because it’s very controversial,” she said.

So far, none of the candidates have had a thorough answer to her question about how the United States can help bring about a just settlement to the conflict.

Asked which candidate’s answer impressed her most, Jaskolka said, “Surprisingly, Beto O’Rourke’s answer was the most satisfying.”

“He said, as a short answer, that he didn’t have plan. But he said, as a longer answer, I think we need to have a two-state solution, and if we don’t start working towards that now, things are going to keep getting worse.”

Jaskolka said wading through crowds at political events to speak to the candidates can be “a little overwhelming.” She added, “I have a lot of social anxiety.”

“But it’s also really exciting to go to these events, because this is what I want to do in the future,” Jaskolka said. “So, it’s cool to get to see the process and to get to be a part of that process.”

Jaskolka, who plans to run for office — perhaps Congress — in the future, is interested in working for one of the 2020 Democratic campaigns. But until then, she’ll keep attending as many candidate events as possible, even for those who’ve already signed the jacket.

Shayna Jaskolka at The Airliner, after a Pete Buttigieg campaign event. March 4, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“I think it’s important that they see some of the same faces each time,” Jaskolka said. “That way they know we’re paying attention, and that we’ll hold them accountable.”

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