Ten universities worth of College Democrats gathered at Penn over the weekend for Dem Con — two days of social events, canvassing, phone banking, speakers and panels sponsored by the Penn Democrats, launching a final push for votes three weeks before election day.
Michelle Peng, a Yale University sophomore and the Elections Coordinator of Yale Democrats, said what most excited her about Dem Con was meeting Democrats from other colleges and learning about activism around the Democratic Party at other schools.
She noted how other schools seem to have a more substantial conservative presence on campus. She commented on what she called Penn’s “surprising amount” of conservatives and Bryn Mawr College’s “totally underground” Republican community.
“At Yale, we don’t have a lot of Republicans,” she said. “Seeing that spectrum and how we interact with the conservatives on campus — whether or not we interact — is interesting.”
Peng said the Yale Democrats had wanted to travel to Philadelphia since last semester to canvass for this election. Coincidentally, the Penn Democrats started planning Dem Con last March, when College junior and Conference chair Sarah Hinstorff had the idea to bring other universities’ chapters to Philadelphia for some last-minute activism before the vote.
“We knew we’d be having very competitive elections,” Hinstorff said.
Hinstorff recruited the keynote speakers over the summer. Her main concern, she said, was finding speakers who could connect to students’ interests. She’d also been emailing with the Clinton campaign about her event since the spring, in hopes of bringing a surrogate.
In a stroke of luck for the Penn Democrats, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine announced just days before the conference that they would speak at Penn Park that weekend.
“We like to think we had something to do with it, but I don’t think we did,” College junior and Penn Democrats President Jana Korn joked.
Minority rights and education activist Michael Smith was Friday’s keynote speaker. He was excited to impart “a great big thank you” to everyone at the conference for their work for the Democratic Party. He hoped to share his story and why he found this election so critical, in addition to leaving everyone “a little inspired.”
“We’ve had once in a lifetime progress over the past eight years, and we have the ability to change the trajectory of our nation,” Smith told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “It’s in the balance of this election.”
Korn commented on why she believed Smith was a wise choice for the keynote speaker.
“The election makes people very skeptical about politics,” she said. As Smith has spent his life working in the government, she found it fitting to listen to someone who “can tell us what public solutions to problems look like.”
Saturday’s keynote speeches followed a discussion format — students sat in a circle with Rick Fromberg, the regional director of the Clinton campaign for Pa., Ohio and Va., as well as the National Millennial Director of the Clinton campaign, Sarah Audelo. They discussed this election’s importance to young people.
The event’s panel discussions included public figures such as The Los Angeles Times Washington columnist Doyle McManus and Director for Community Schools at the Mayor’s Office of Education Susan Gobreski. Each focused on specific issues: the media, feminism and the integration of American schools.
Hinstorff said she hoped this weekend would mix “political advocacy and issue-based engagement.”
In addition to hearing the speakers, the Dem Con participants canvassed in Philadelphia for three hours on Saturday morning for Hillary Clinton and Katie McGinty. Korn added that some of the universities in attendance, such as Harvard University, Georgetown University and Howard University, came from “non-competitive states,” so these students were “really looking to knock on some doors” and make a difference.
Dem Con Media Coordinator and College sophomore Becca Taichman relayed the event’s greater significance: “This demonstration of young voter involvement and empowerment is really important for the broader world to see.”
Keynote speaker Michael Smith agreed.
“You guys are the catalyst for action,” he told the DP. “You know, one person that leaves this conference can probably affect thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people.”
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