In the wake of the 2016 United States presidential election, the Democratic Party has faced a widening split within its own ranks as it struggles to reclaim its voter base in time for the next election.
On campus, members of Penn Democrats have also been reflecting on national events and working on ways to strengthen and unify their organization.
In light of the criticisms that Democrats are fixated on identity politics, Penn Dems Vice President and College junior Ari Goldfine said the group is simplifying its platform, advocating for more party-wide ideologies and focusing less on identity politics. They hope this will help the organization appeal to a broader demographic, said Goldfine, who is a podcast host for The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Penn Dems President and College junior Rachel Pomerantz said this is a way to return to the mission of the organization so that, even after the election, members of Penn Dems can stay active and committed to its central causes.
“At its core, we’re people who are really passionate about democratic and progressive values," Pomerantz said. "All the issues that [students] joined Penn Dems for, they’re still passionate about.”
Goldfine added that Penn Dems has historically followed the platform of the national Democratic Party by advocating for the issues that it deems important, but the group is now changing its approach by pushing its own platforms and policies.
"We hadn't used our club in a while, at least for as long as I have been on campus, to shape the party," Goldfine said. "We've taken 'top-down' structure, where we follow what the party expects or follow what national organizations expect, instead of saying, 'No, this is what we want,' to push from within to get to this point."
The group is also shifting its focus from national politics by becoming more active in local politics.
In May, the group worked extensively in the Democratic campaign for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office. During the DA primaries, Penn Dems hosted a debate for five of the seven Democratic candidates, voting afterwards to endorse Larry Krasner, who subsequently won the nomination to become the Democratic candidate. Krasner will face off against the Republican candidate, Beth Grossman, in November.
Goldfine also added that the group has been careful in navigating Penn's political space after the election. Following President Trump's victory, there has been an increased interest among members of Penn Dems to get involved with more progressive individual causes, but the group's leadership has had to think twice about how to act on these new proposals.
"Penn has a lot of protest-oriented organizations on campus," Goldfine said. "We don't want to step on their toes, take up the space they claimed."
As a result, Penn Dems has begun to work together with other progressive organizations on campus to help promote the causes they believe in as an institutation.
For example, at the end of last semester, for example, Penn Dems sent an email to its entire network of students when Fossil Free Penn organized a multi-day sit-in to protest against the University's investments in the fossil fuel industry.
"We invite our members to every opportunity there is to participate in local activism," said Dylan Milligan, Wharton sophomore and the political chair of Penn Dems. "The majority of our members are happy to know about these events, and they do show up."