With the approach of November’s presidential elections, both the Wesleyan Democrats (WesDems) and the Wesleyan Republicans (WesRepublicans) are gearing up for this year’s pivotal election day. While the University is often known for its students’ political activism, it will be particularly heightened in the months leading up to November.
Though the focus of the national election is on the Republican and Democratic parties, political involvement at the University is not exclusively split down party lines, as both the WesDems and WesRepublicans consider themselves politically diverse with no single type of liberal or conservative.
“We want to portray ourselves as a group that has no deep ideological commitments—-we don’t follow one particular Republican ideology,” said Mytheos Holt ’10, secretary of the WesRepublicans.
Chris Goy ’09, former president of the Wesleyan Democrats, expressed similar sentiments.
“Wesleyan prides itself on having a lot of independent thinkers,” he said.
Goy noted that while many students have established political inclinations, an alarming number are not yet registered to vote. He believes it is imperative that there be participation from both the students and the University in encouraging potential voters.
“If it’s entirely student-run, voter registration will never be successful,” Goy said. “If there’s not a symbiotic relationship between student responsibility and University responsibility, then the status quo will continue, the status quo being a very shockingly low number of Wesleyan students who are actually registered to vote.”
While the specifics have yet to be established, the administration will indeed soon be taking a more active role in encouraging students, according to Goy. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 stipulates that universities and colleges have an obligation to help register their student bodies to vote. This non-partisan effort has the support of both the WesDems and WesRepublicans.
Although it is not expected that the administration will take on all responsibilities for pushing students to vote, Goy feels that a healthy balance between student and University efforts is certainly in order. His hope is that the push towards greater voter registration will take on a structure very similar to a presidential campaign. With an ensuing pyramid-like configuration, there would be a number of individuals on campus working from the bottom-up to augment University voter participation on a large scale. In one proposed new program, for example, ground organizers would be responsible for registering the students living in their halls.
“One person can make a huge difference in registering their hall to vote in about an hour,” Goy said.
The efforts of the WesRepublicans are more focused on swaying independent or moderate students.
“We are aware that the campus trend is towards [Democratic presidential nominee Barack] Obama,” Holt said. “We’ve gotten used to operating under the assumption that people disagree with us. We want to target students who are more likely to actually listen.”
Founder and current president of the WesRepublicans, Eugene Wong ’09, explained that the organization offers a different outlook from the majority of views on campus. The WesRepublicans have also been in contact with an individual from the McCain campaign and plan on participating in a number of grassroots efforts.
“We offer something that’s not the norm,” Wong said. “We have in common the belief that political debate and discourse is productive.”
Both the WesRepublicans and WesDems intend on participating in at least one debate this fall to further motivate student involvement. However, Karl Grindal ’09, current president of the WesDems, specified that the majority of the groups’ energies this fall will be concentrated on garnering support for their respective candidates.
The WesDems, along with other schools and Students for Barack Obama, will send members to canvas for Obama in swing states such as New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Locally, members will be participating in a phone drive to reach out to such swing states.
While there is certainly room for personal opinion in each organization, the WesDems and the WesRepublicans do support their respective party’s nominees.
“None of us were very happy with Bush to begin with,” Holt said. “McCain is going to break that. He is interested in running an honorable campaign.”
As would be expected, the WesDems’ view differs sharply.
“We need change in this country—there are so many issues that have been ignored for so long,” Grindal said. “McCain and Palin are very much a continuation of the Bush administration.”
When it comes to galvanizing supporters for the Democrats, Grindal feels that a lot of the work is already being done at the national level.
“The candidates are accomplishing a lot of that for us,” Grindal said. “We need to focus our energies on providing Wesleyan students with the resources to actualize their ideas within the democratic process.”
Both groups expressed a hope to inspire students to take political interest and action beyond their time in college. And, while the WesDems and the WesRepublicans do not agree upon which candidate they believe should take office on Jan. 20, 2009, they are far from archenemies.
“We get along far too well for the surrounding circumstances on campus,” Holt said.