As election season approaches, students rally for candidates, causes, campus engagement

With the 2016 presidential election on the horizon, Tufts political student organizations have been pursuing different goals and agendas this summer that they will continue this fall. These organizations have their sights set on a variety of political objectives. Here is a look at what the largest political organizations on campus have been up to since the presidential nominees were determined in May and June. 

Tufts Democrats

For Ben Kaplan, president of Tufts Democrats, summer vacation meant campaign season. As an intern for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton‘s campaign in Roanoke, Va., Kaplan spent days talking to voters, calling voters and organizing a voter registration drive.

The Tufts senior and political science major said he would like to see fellow Tufts students engage with the election this semester in the same way he did this summer.

“What we’re doing down here in rural southern Virginia and what interns and organizers are doing all across the country is exactly what the Tufts Dems are going to be doing on campus,” he said. “Our plan as the Tufts Dems is to be the Tufts University field office for the Clinton campaign.”

As Tufts’ “field office,” Tufts Democrats plan on running three major initiatives leading up to election night on November 8, according to Kaplan: registering voters, running phone banks for Clinton and planning weekend trips to campaign for Clinton in New Hampshire.

The group has joined forces with former members of Tufts for Hillary to create a campus-wide election strategy, according to Kaplan. He added that they are also in contact with former members of Tufts for Bernie.

“[Tufts Democrats’] goal is twofold: it’s to be the voice of the Democratic Party on campus and to help elect Democrats up and down the [ballot],” Kaplan said. “But it is also to be…a voice within the Democratic Party, demanding progressive change and demanding a more inclusive party.”

In addition to working with former Tufts for Hillary and Tufts for Bernie members, Kaplan said the group will partner with the College Democrats of Massachusetts, a statewide organization that includes 16 colleges in the Commonwealth, according to its website.

In partnership with this organization, members of the Tufts Democrats and other politically engaged students will have the opportunity to canvas for the democratic nominee in New Hampshire, an important swing state in New England.

We’re looking at potentially 500 students from across Massachusetts going up to New Hampshire on three different weekends,” Kaplan said.

As increased membership, participation and engagement is crucial to carry out the Tufts Democrats’ current goals, Kaplan said the group has made structural changes over the past year to allow more people to get involved in campaigning, canvassing and other political efforts.

“Tufts Democrats is now organized as a horizontal club…which basically means that the main governing body of [the group], the planning board, is open to all members…[so they can] have a real voice in our organization,” he said.

Tufts Democrats is currently the largest political organization on campus, with an email chain that reaches almost a quarter of the current student body, according to Kaplan. The active membership from week to week is about 45, although Kaplan said he expects the number of active members to expand to over 100 as election season heats up this fall.

Tufts for Hillary

After months of phone banking, canvassing and registering voters last semester, Tufts for Hillary members have joined forces with the Tufts Democrats now that Hillary Clinton has emerged as the Democratic nominee. Together, they will work to elect Democrats at the local, congressional and federal levels, according to Kate Mieher, former president of Tufts for Hillary.

“Tufts for Hillary is officially part of the Tufts Democrats,” Mieher, a senior, told the Daily in an email. “This semester is going to be pretty campaign-focused, because the goal of the semester is to elect Hillary and other Democrats.”

In addition to campaigning, Tufts Democrats plans to invite local candidates and elected officials from the Medford/Somerville area to speak and engage in discussions at its weekly meetings, Mieher, a political science major, said.

As the main coordinator on campus for the Clinton campaign, she will work through similar means as last semester to support the Democratic agenda this fall.

“I’m basically doing the same role [as before], but…I’m fulfilling that role within a larger organization, which is the Tufts Dems,” she said.

In addition, Mieher said she hopes former members of Tufts for Hillary will get involved this fall with the Tufts Progressive Alliance (TPA), a new group on campus rebranded from its former identity as Tufts for Bernie.

Tufts Progressive Alliance, formerly Tufts for Bernie

When Nate Krinsky was elected president of Tufts for Bernie last April, he knew Sen. Bernie Sanders’ chances of becoming the Democratic nominee were slim.

A former president of Tufts for Bernie, Deena Alexander, suggested that Krinsky change the group’s goals as the election progressed. Rather than continue to focus primarily on electing Sanders, a single progressive candidate, she told Krinsky to consider making Tufts for Bernie a space for students who more broadly stand for progressive values and policies.

Krinsky, a sophomore, took that advice and created Tufts Progressive Alliance.

“I was very worried about the whole movement fizzling out without [Bernie],” he said. “I wanted to make sure that at least on the Tufts campus … we could continue the momentum … that we found with the Bernie Sanders campaign.”

Tufts Progressive Alliance will focus on several issues leading up to the general election, according to Priya Vaishampayan, who will be managing TPA’s social media this semester. She cited several examples, including environmental protection, a woman’s right to choose and immigration and healthcare reform.

Krinsky said the group hopes to harness the energy of the existing student organizations on campus that promote different progressive causes through activism.

“What we want to do is work with other, more activism-heavy groups on campus … focus [their] energy and point it towards more concrete, political goals,” he said.

With similar policy goals as the Tufts Democrats and substantial membership overlap, Krinsky said he hopes to work with that organization as well. Nonetheless, both Krinsky and Vaishampayan said TPA will be branded as nonpartisan as the election approaches.

“We want to focus on the issues, not on the candidate, and engage in a full discussion [about policy goals],” Vaishampayan, a junior who studies political science, said.

One example of an issue the group will bring to the attention of Tufts students is the Massachusetts Legalization Initiative, also known as Question 4, which will appear on the Massachusetts ballot this November. If this initiative is passed, the use, cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana for recreational purposes by individuals at least 21 years old would be legal in Massachusetts, according to the text of the initiative available at Mass.gov.

Krinsky said the initiative has many influential opponents, which could stop it from passing. At the same time, he said the issue has the potential to impassion progressive Tufts students like himself that want to see the initiative pass.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle because there are a lot of political establishments in Massachusetts that have come out against it,” he said. “But it’s a great progressive issue…and it’s such a great opportunity for a growing group to work together toward a common goal.”

Tufts Republicans

The goals of the Tufts Republicans during the upcoming election are not as clear-cut as the backing of a single candidate, or even of a series of policy issues. Tufts Republicans President Hannah Crowley said the promotion of political awareness and engagement will be the primary goal of the student organization for the fall semester.

“We would like to encourage political activism in the sense of increasing the voter turnout in our community, as well as keeping the student body up-to-date on political affairs by focusing on the facts behind current events, court decisions, policies, etc.,” Crowley, a junior, told the Daily in an email.

When it comes to the upcoming presidential election, Tufts Republicans range in their opinions of who should next hold office, according to Crowley.

“As [Donald] Trump does not fit the mold of a typical Republican nominee, the Tufts Republicans are split in their support of a presidential candidate,” she said. “While some like Trump, others will instead be voting for [libertarian candidate Gary] Johnson in the fall.”

Due to these differing opinions, the organization has decided not to endorse or campaign for a single candidate.

“Toward the end of the spring, when it became clearer that Trump and Clinton would become the nominees, we devoted a lot of time to predicting how things would go down in November, as well as the influence that third parties may have in this election,” Crowley said.

With a strong divide among Republicans on campus and across the nation, Crowley said that upholding the GOP’s principles in the group’s activities and in the face of future elections will be of special importance this semester.

“Regardless of what happens in November, it is crucial that all Republicans focus on what unites them: the Constitution and the conservative ideals upon which this country was founded,” she said.

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