In late fall of 2004, I filed into a tiny classroom with a dozen of my peers for one of the first and largest meetings of the Young Democrats club. We comprised the lone liberal element among a population of nearly 1,600 rural Georgia public-school students. And we were excited; John Kerry and George W. Bush were in a dead heat, and it looked like the White House might have a new occupant come Jan. 20. To us, Kerry’s campaign represented a call to action — and a chance to finally have our voices be heard.
Those days spent in the shadow of the 2004 election mark some of the most exciting in my life. While memories of the 2008 election have begun to fade — even the triumphant, election-night dash down to City Hall — my short time with the Kerry campaign remains clear as day. For those few weeks in autumn, our tiny group took on the entire conservative culture under which we’d been raised. Along the way, exchange of ideas with our larger, better-organized Republican rivals challenged some of our beliefs and reaffirmed others. It was a powerful experience, and one which — given Penn’s unquestionably liberal leanings — not enough folks here have been exposed to.
The moment I stepped foot on Penn’s campus, I stopped being part of an embattled minority. No longer one of the most outspoken voices at my school, I was suddenly a relative moderate couched in a vast majority. When conversations turned to politics, most everyone agreed with each other. At the time, I thought this was an amazing thing. Today, it still stands out to me – but not in any positive way.
While everyone recognizes our campus’ Democratic majority, the actual figures are still staggering. In the final days of the 2008 election, a CBS/Daily Pennsylvanian poll found that fully 81 percent of Penn students planned to support Obama for president. Even now, there’s little comparison between Republican and Democratic groups on campus. Roughly 800 students subscribe to the College Republicans listserv — for the Penn Democrats, that number exceeds 3,200.
“Complacency of the majority” has been a popular term thrown around in recent newscasts to describe Democrats’ massive, filibuster-proof representation in Congress, and it’s no less applicable here. Because liberal dominance on campus is never in serious question, individual Democrats are less motivated. Similarly, such numerical superiority means that there’s less need to listen to voices of opposition. This is a problem for everyone; according to Wharton senior and College Republicans chairman Peter Devine, “If people just casually associate with the Republican Party … the overwhelming liberal tendencies at Penn probably discourage these people from being more involved in our own organization.”
Increasing frank dialogue between political groups — even ones of radically different size — can go a long way toward making Penn’s political climate more engaging. College senior, former College Republicans chairman, and UA member Zac Byer was one of the only conservative voices in his California high school, and he remained just as much a political minority his first day at Penn. In his words, “I gravitated toward the College Republicans early in freshman year. But I also think it’s a good idea to diversify your portfolio — spending time with people I don’t necessarily see eye to eye has led to some of my most fruitful relationships.”
What Penn lacks — and what I remember so fondly about my time on the Kerry campaign — is a sense of earnest political competition. For Republicans, this means embracing the role of vocal minority and orchestrating more attention-grabbing events to increase publicity and membership. And according to College junior and Penn Dems president Jordan Levine, for Democrats this means energizing the huge segment of campus that leans left by focusing more on debate and less on specialized Philadelphia primary races that few students know or care about.
Penn’s political minorities don’t always have to be marginalized, and its majorities don’t always have to be complacent. There’s serious room for improvement on campus — it’s about time we made the effort.
Emerson Brooking is a College junior from Turnerville, Ga. He is a member of the UA. His e-mail address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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