With 50 days until a historic presidential election, Penn Democrats hosted their annual “kick-off rally,” featuring live speeches by Attorney General of Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro and Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims, as well as a pre-recorded video message from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The event was held over Zoom at 5:30 p.m. Monday night and featured up to 73 participants at one time. Penn Dems Political Director and College junior Michael Nevett said the event is part of the club's main effort this semester to encourage as many people as possible to vote.
“There’s so much work that needs to be done and very little time to do it — ballots drop in Pennsylvania in just like the next week or two. We need to make sure that we persuade voters before the Republicans do," Nevett said. "We have to vote, we have to get our friends to vote, we have to get our classmates to vote, and we have to especially make calls to swing districts and swing states across Pennsylvania."
Shapiro spoke first and opened his speech by thanking Penn Dems’ for its work on his own campaign. He also spoke about how he ran to be a different kind of Attorney General, citing his commitment to defend people’s rights, “no matter where they come from, who they love, who they pray to or choose not to pray to.”
Shapiro specifically discussed his recent court battles with President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump. In late June of 2020, the Trump re-election campaign had sued Pennsylvania state and county officials calling mail ballot drop boxes unconstitutional in hopes of barring them at the federal level. The U.S. District Court has recently ruled against the President's claims.
In August, Shapiro sued the U.S. Postal Service to challenge the nationwide operational changes made by Trump appointee Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, in order to prevent mail delays and secure vote-by-mail initiatives.
“You need to know that the President of the United States sued us here in Pennsylvania to make it harder for you to vote by mail, and I went to court and confronted the president’s lawyers who said that the reason why we can’t have vote-by-mail in Pennsylvania is because it's rife with fraud," Shapiro said during the event.
Shapiro also declared his commitment to protecting consumers, protecting the planet, giving citizens the right to clean air and pure water, funding for criminal justice and education, fighting the opioid epidemic, and touched on his own personal struggle with student debt, among other prominent political issues.
"Your voice really matters here," Shapiro said, concluding his speech. "At the end of the day, your voices are what needs to be heard in this process."
Shapiro had previously visited Penn in April to formally announce the Peace Plan for a Safe Pennsylvania, a plan promising to cut gun deaths in half in Pennsylvania by 2030. The plan was co-written by Nevett in his capacity as the Pennsylvania March for Our Lives Director.
Nevett said Shapiro has been a great friend of Penn Dems for a long time and “is one of the most important politicians in the state.” Penn Dems supported him during his campaign in the 2016 election cycle. He is up for re-election and on the ballot for November 3rd, and Penn Dems is continuing to support his campaign.
Sims spoke next, discussing how he became a state representative and his goals for Philadelphia as a whole. He said that becoming a representative is not his main goal: “I’m a civil rights attorney. My lifelong dream is equality.”
Sims stressed that politics and good policies require empathy, emphasizing an understanding of the life experiences women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community have.
The final and surprise guest speaker for the Penn Dems’ event was Senator Cory Booker. Nevett said that the club was able to get in touch with his campaign because his predecessor from two years ago, 2020 College graduate Gabrielle Fink, worked for his presidential campaign.
Booker recorded a video especially for Penn Dems saying he was grateful to be invited to say a few words at "this important kick-off event." He thanked Penn Dems for taking this election seriously and urged them to do work at the grassroots level.
"That is how elections are won," Booker said. "Young Democrats have so much power in determining the outcome of this election." He said that this is not only applicable to the presidential and vice-presidential races, but up and down the ballot.
Two first years in the College, roommates Max Seigerman and Kylie Blitzer, attended the Penn Dems event together. Seigerman called the event an “informative and enthusiastic experience.”
"[Shapiro and Sims] were passionate in their discussions of voting, mail-in-ballots, accessibility, LGBTQ rights, and the constitutionality crises that could come with voting in the coming election, and what they’re doing in Philadelphia to avoid those disputes," Blitzer said.
"It's just really exciting to participate in these events before the next election," Seigerman said.