Student political groups on campus alter approaches, priorities following election

Tufts Republicans hold their weekly meeting in Campus Center Room 012 on Feb. 14. (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

Since this year’s presidential inauguration, Tufts student political groups on campus have adjusted their approaches to political organizing in response to President Donald Trump’s administration.

Many groups are choosing to focus on ongoing activism with regards to specific issues, according to the leaders of political groups Tufts Democrats, Tufts Republicans, Tufts Cooperation and Innovation in Citizenship (CIVIC) and the Tufts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)Tufts Democrats and Tufts Republicans, however, will resume a larger focus on political campaigns for the 2018 midterm elections, their group leaders said.

According to Ben Kaplan, president of Tufts Democrats, the group has changed its entire perspective.

“Before Trump was elected, we assumed that we would spend the spring exploring different policy questions, strengthening our club membership and just kind of decompressing from the campaign. Once Trump was elected, that totally changed,” Kaplan, a senior, said.

Kaplan said Tufts Democrats is still doing some policy work, but members are focusing specifically on issues that the Trump administration is attacking.

“The most important thing that we’ve decided to do now is weekly direct action. So every single week at our meetings and throughout the week, we engage in some kind of action to fight for our progressive values,” he said.

Kaplan said members of Tufts Democrats used the end of a recent meeting to write postcards to all of their respective senators about issues they were concerned about.

Tufts Democrats is focusing in on a few specific issues to work on, according to Kaplan.

“One of the issues most important to us is fighting for immigrant justice,” Kaplan said. “We work very closely with the group United for Immigrant Justice … and we’re also working with all the other college Democrat chapters in the state to lobby the Massachusetts state house to pass a bill which would essentially make Massachusetts a sanctuary state.”

The bill, called the Safe Communities Act, would prevent law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws or working with immigration authorities. The bill is cosponsored by Representative Denise Provost of Somerville, among other state legislators.

Additionally, Tufts Democrats has partnered with Raise Up Massachusetts and the Tufts Progressive Alliance to help with the Fight for $15 campaign, which calls for a minimum wage of $15Kaplan said.

Furthermore, Kaplan said Tufts Democrats is helping to organize for the Fair Share Amendment. The Fair Share Amendment is a proposed ballot initiative by Raise Up Massachusetts that would create a graduated income tax in the state, with earnings in excess of $1 million subject to an additional tax.

“If you’re one of those people who makes $22,000 a week, we think that you can afford to pay four percent more on taxes,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said Tufts Democrats is focused on taking consistent, concrete actions both on and off campus this semester, and has partnered with other Democratic groups on college campuses in this endeavor. Kaplan added that the group is relying on students to fight for progressive values.

“We want to use the people power, the student power that we have at Tufts, to make change in the larger community,” he said. “I firmly believe that students can be a powerful voice, particularly at the state level of government.”

Meanwhile, Tufts Republicans President George Behrakis said the Trump victory has invigorated the group to have a larger presence on the Tufts campus.

“The club in previous years as I understand it … was sort of weak in between the 2012 and 2016 elections, and just in the last few semesters got going again,” Behrakis, a first-year, said. “So I saw [an] opportunity with what happened in the election … to use a more vigorous approach to solidify its presence on campus.”

Behrakis said that Tufts Republicans has seen an increase in membership of around 30 to 40 people since the 2016 election.

The Tufts Republicans will continue to work towards their goal of being more prominent on campus this semester, Behrakis said.

“For now, really until Senate elections kick in, we’re really just focusing on trying to increase our influence a little bit to match the [Democrats],” he said.

Behrakis said that Tufts Republicans hopes to attract right-of-center and centrist students on campus, as well as students from across the political spectrum who are interested in learning about the group’s perspective. Behrakis explained how members of Tufts Republicans have a range of political ideologies and are not all necessarily supporters of Trump.

“I think that a lot of our club did not vote for Trump. We have a lot of Libertarians, we do have a lot of people who are kind of traditional Republicans like myself, and there are also people who are sort of centrist, very moderate,” Behrakis said. “We have a few Democrats who come because they just have not found a place within their own party, so they’ve kind of tried to venture out.”

Free speech is one specific issue that Tufts Republicans will focus on, Behrakis said. He said that free speech issues are important for the group moving forward, given the country’s current political climate.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is bring conservative speakers who are able to shed a certain light on that,” he said. “We’re also scheduling a few other people from Massachusetts, Republican politicians, to kind of talk about in a very liberal environment how conservative voices can still be heard and listened to. So speech issues are really key right now.”

Matt Felsenfeld, co-leader of Tufts CIVIC, explained that CIVIC hopes to use the post-election political climate as an opportunity to continue its mission.

“From the start, CIVIC’s founding goal was to create a space where Democrats and Republicans from all sides of the political spectrum could come and have a conversation about current issues [and the] current state of affairs of our country, and I think now more than ever, that drive to maintain a civil dialogue is incredibly important,” Felsenfeld, a senior, said.

Felsenfeld said members of CIVIC realized that the group’s work is particularly important after the election.

“What we’ve found, at least in the year and a half [to] two years that we’ve been around, is that when people are able to come together and actually have conversations, then people start to see each other as people and not just as political opponents,” he said.

There has been an upward trend in consistent membership in CIVIC, with a good representation of both liberals and conservatives turning up for conversations within the group, Felsenfeld added.

President of Tufts’ ACLU chapter Brandon Katz said his group will try to shift toward a more active approach to organizing since the election.

“In the past we’ve done educational-based stuff where the goal was to engage the community,” Katz, a junior, said. “I’ve been trying to transition a little bit away from that and more to actual action, like getting more involved in the actual campaigns of the ACLU … to really help make a difference with these issues.”

Katz added that the club has seen an increase in membership since the election, and he hopes to see greater student participation in the political world.

“I encourage everyone in one way or another to really get involved and get active, because I think we’ve seen over the past few weeks that calling your congressmen [and] showing that you care about what’s going on … makes a huge difference,” Katz said. “Everyone needs to realize that and everyone needs to get involved.”