As the November election draws near, Penn's campus political groups are determining their best plan of action for political engagement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of the groups are waiting on further communication from the University about how student organizations and clubs can operate in the fall. Penn Leads the Vote said it expects its events to be solely virtual, while Penn Democrats, Penn College Republicans, Penn Justice Democrats, and Penn for Biden said they will try to hold smaller in-person events in the fall, if possible.
Rising College junior and Penn Dems Vice President Tamara Wurman said the November presidential election — between 1968 Wharton graduate and President Donald Trump and Penn Presidential Professor of Practice and former Vice President Joe Biden — will make the upcoming semester especially busy for the group and its members.
“Election years are always a really energetic time for Penn Dems, and this one is crucially important, so we want to be engaged in any way we can despite coronavirus-related restrictions,” Wurman said.
Wurman added that, because the group is so large, things like general body meetings for members will be difficult to hold in person. Students will be required to avoid all gatherings of 25 or more people, including extracurricular activities.
Despite this, she said Penn Dems is anticipating holding some smaller, in-person meetings. There will also be an increased focus on virtual events, such as listening to guest speakers, phone banking for candidates, and holding election-related discussions online.
The group is also trying to recruit new members, especially within the Class of 2024. More than 100 incoming first-year students have already signed up to join Penn Dems after the group's marketing campaign on Facebook and other social media platforms.
College Republicans will also emphasize digital outreach methods as the election approaches, they wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. This will include providing assistance to students submitting mail-in and absentee ballots, the group's executive board wrote.
"Furthermore we hope to continue to engage the Penn community with innovative and thought-provoking events," they wrote.
Rising College sophomore and Penn for Biden Operations Director Noah Lewine, who previously served as a staff reporter for the DP, said that though social distancing measures will make for a less traditional election year, the group plans to be as engaged as restrictions allow, whether that be hosting entirely online meetings or some small in-person gatherings.
“We’re really looking to see what other people and other groups on campus are thinking, what they like and dislike about Biden and his campaign, and most importantly, how they’re planning to vote in the fall,” Lewine said.
For now, Lewine said Penn for Biden is working on gaining information about different outreach efforts such as phone banking, text banking, online voting registration, and advertising for the group in Facebook groups, such as that of the Class of 2024, to get students as involved as possible in Biden’s campaign prior to the start of the semester.
Lewine said the club also wants to focus on making the organization a space for those who are less enthusiastic about Biden to voice their concerns.
"We will be a group that will advocate for these more progressive voters and make sure that the campaign is listening to young people,” Lewine said.
Like Lewine, rising College junior and Penn Justice Democrats Board member Tara Yazdan Panah said Penn Justice Dems is also working on expanding its reach by collaborating with other progressive groups in their online events.
Though hopeful, Yazdan Panah said that she believes the group’s events will most likely be limited to phonebanks, virtual interest meetings, and virtual political discussions, or if permissible, small and socially-distanced gatherings.
Penn Leads The Vote co-director and rising College junior Harrison Feinman said that as of now, PLTV is not planning on holding any events in person to ensure that the group is complying with coronavirus distancing restrictions.
Although PLTV only has nine or 10 members on staff, they have previously held events with thousands of people at a time which makes them different from many of the clubs on campus, Feinman said.
“Even though we’re not going to expect anyone to come to a PLTV event, we’re still hoping to still reach a wide range of people, and this way, we can reach students that don’t decide to come back to campus as well.”
Feinman said that because the University denoted this year as the Year of Civic Engagement, he anticipates PLTV will have a role in New Student Orientation and discussions surrounding this year's theme, whether it be through virtual or in-person methods.
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