How AU’s ‘most politically active campus’ is preparing for the midterms

New and familiar political clubs gear up for election season

How AU’s ‘most politically active campus’ is preparing for the midterms

Club members of Young Democratic Socialists AU vote for central committee online.

With midterms on the horizon, AU’s politically active campus — ranked number one by the Princeton Review — is gearing up for election season through activism efforts by new and old political clubs. Groups on the right and left say they’re working hard to elect candidates who represent their views, as well as foster better conversations about policy and politics.

Just under three months old, the Young Democratic Socialists club began the process of club recognition from AU’s Club Council this fall. Third-year students Verónica Del Valle and Eric Perless said they created the club as a space for leftists.

“Our organizational goals are to create a space for democratic socialism on AU’s campus that will both combine activism work and a space for conversation at AU because we think that is lacking at the moment,” Del Valle said.

The group has already phonebanked for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a candidate for New York’s 14th Congressional District who identifies as a Democratic Socialist. When interviewed in mid-September, the organization was working on bringing leftist speakers to campus while also promoting its presence on campus.

“We have a large breadth of political organization on this campus. It’s AU, it’s what you expect,” Del Valle said. “But there was not one for leftists or democratic socialists or socialists or anything within the left of Democrats’ political sphere.”

Angela Chen, the president of AU College Democrats, said her club has committed themselves to weekly phone banks for candidates, such as Sen. Bill Nelson and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum of Florida, as well as several campaign trips in Virginia.

“Our focus for the time being is campaigning,” Chen said, adding that their goal is to “[make] as big of an impact on competitive campaigns as we can.”

This includes partnering with other AU organizations for events, something that Chen said has been largely ignored by the club in the past.

“We’re trying to partner with other organizations on campus,” Chen said. “There’s a history of indifference coming from our e-board, not club members.”

In the same vein, AU’s Voto Latino chapter phonebanked and campaigned for Ocasio-Cortez over the summer. The chapter’s president and founder, third-year student Rolando Cantú, said he created the chapter last year because he wanted to support the Latinx community.

“Right now we’re focusing on our elections, however, I do hope to also help with the community at AU so that means leadership positions, training young and Latinx freshmen,” Cantú said. “We want to create a Latinx community here at AU that basically is a mentorship.”

For the 2018 midterms, Cantú said the organization is non-partisan and supports Latinx politicians on the left and right. However, the organization is not supporting Latinx politician Ted Cruz and has phonebanked for his opponent Beto O’Rourke.

“Beto has been really appreciative for when it comes to the CLEAN Dream Act, supporting DACA students, so we do hope to support candidates who are not Latinx but are sympathetic to Latinx community,” Cantú said.

Democracy Matters, a new non-partisan organization started in spring 2018 that was recognized by the University this fall, is hoping to get big money out of politics.

“I think that campaign finance reform is the biggest issue of our time,” club president sophomore Ksenia Novikova said. “I think it is connected to literally every single political issue. Anything that anyone cares about, it has a connection and I think especially here in D.C., there should be a chapter.”

For the midterms, the organization plans to do lobbying trainings and lobby days, including partnering with the George Washington University chapter. Additionally, they have speaker events planned and hope to do work concerning voter registration.

“We really don’t have one solution for campus finance reform,” Novikova said. “Democrats, Republicans, we have people from all these different parties and this is an issue that everyone can support.”

Other new clubs that have popped up in the past several years are Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and the AU chapter of Network of Enlightened Women (NeW), a conservative women’s group. For Sam Romano, president of YAL, the club’s main focus is to educate students on the principle of liberty.

“If you could put the philosophy of our club … it’s very classically liberal: Do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t infringe on anybody else,” Romano said.

The group’s main focus is bringing speakers to campus to discuss liberty and free speech. The organization is not permitted to support candidates, but has campaigned against candidates in the past, including current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Romano said.

Erin O’Malley, the outreach coordinator for NeW, said she considers her organization to be a space for conservative women and activism partnerships.

“[NeW’s] purpose is to serve more not only as a political group but also as a way for people to make friend and meet people,” O’Malley said. “It’s intentionally small and intimate as opposed to College Republicans.”

Although AU’s campus is widely seen as liberal, AU College Republicans have seen a hike in consistent members within the past two years, growing from about 20 to 100 members, according to the group’s president, Robert Wines. 

“Over the past two years, it’s gone through a major rebuilding process,” Wines said.“It’s been fantastic to see [the club] grow but we want to make sure that we build on this momentum and we keep going forward as a club.” 

The club has a few phonebanks planned before the midterm, Wines said in a mid-September interview. Wines said the organization traveled to Long Island to campaign for Rep. Lee Zeldin and is planning to campaign for Larry Hogan, the current Republican governor for Maryland who is running for re-election.

Heading into the November elections, club leaders like Chen, the AU Dems president, have their eyes on set on the high stakes of the midterms.

“The 2018 midterms are obviously so important,” Chen said. “A lot of these elections can shape policies that affect students at AU for the rest of our lives, issues like health care, issues that would heavily affect college students’ lives for now and for the future.”

A version of this article originally appeared in The Eagle's October 2018 fall print edition.

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