Political clubs at Penn say they are ready to regroup and plan in-person events, bouncing back with an intense focus on building a sense of community that was harder to create online. Here's how on-campus political groups, from Penn Democrats to Penn Government and Politics Association, are gearing up for the semester.
Just a day into the first week of classes, Wharton junior and Penn Democrats Communications Director Holly Anderson said the group has already begun its efforts to get students registered to vote in Pennsylvania. She said the group has registered over 100 new individuals in the state thus far into the fall semester.
Last semester, Anderson said the group concentrated on the local primaries during the 2021 elections. Looking forward, College sophomore Noah Lewine, the group's political director, said he anticipates the group will focus on the 2022 Pennsylvania gubernatorial election that will take place next November to elect the Governor of Pennsylvania and the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania.
"I think our other big focus this year is really what will happen in 2022, and trying to get as many people on campus registered to vote and also get them excited about what's going to be a really, really important election year for not only Pennsylvania, but for the whole country," Lewine said.
Penn Democrats plans to host Lieutenant Governor candidate and state Rep. Brian Sims, Lewine said, which will be followed by a conversation with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. The group will also host conversations with U.S. Senate candidate Malcolm Kenyatta, as well as city Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier.
Anderson is hopeful that with a return to in-person classes, the group will be able to host as many of their events in person as possible while adhering to campus guidelines.
"We're making sure that we follow all campus regulations, but we are hoping just to make everything as engaging as possible, and I think a lot of people are excited to be back in person as much as we can be," Anderson said.
College junior Harrison Selznick, who serves as College Republicans' Communications Director, said the group is hoping to hold a general board meeting sometime in the upcoming two weeks in order to get a better idea of how many students will be involved in the group's upcoming events.
Selznick said the group hopes to host small get-togethers for students, such as movie nights, with the return to in-person learning. He added he hopes speaker events will take place primarily in the spring semester as the primary election gets closer.
"Mostly for the fall, we're hoping to do normal, casual club stuff here and there, and host events hopefully later in the semester when COVID is not as crazy," Selznick said. "And, of course, anything we hold in person, everyone will be wearing a mask, and we will be sure to have all protocols in place."
Penn Justice Democrats
Penn Justice Democrats is a leftist, political group on campus focused on advocating for progressive candidates and issues, the group's communications director and college senior Jack Cahill, said.
While the group will continue to work on electoral politics and discuss its possible endorsements for future campaigns, Cahill said his main priority is to ensure Penn Justice Dems cultivates a stronger internal community.
“In this little off-season that we have from explicit campaigning and electoral organizing, we're going to really try and build up a lot of different social events and really foster a stronger progressive community on campus — especially in person,” Cahill said.
While virtual operations throughout the last three semesters led to some difficulties in planning and advertising some events, Penn Justice Dems Outreach Chair and College senior Tara Yazdan Panah said the group was thrilled that they were able to host some bigger speaker events that might not have been possible in person last semester. She said the club may incorporate some online events along with in-person ones this year.
“The best thing about the virtual setting was that we got amazing speakers that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise; we hosted Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, and Krystal Ball,” Yazdan Panah said. "They are all really big names, and it would have been hard for them to travel because they're busy people. Since they were able to do it from their own home, it allowed us to host them, and we are considering continuing that aspect moving forward.”
Yazdan Panah said that while she has seen some student activism on campus die down since President Joe Biden’s presidential win, Penn Justice Dems exists to keep pushing for progressive causes, regardless of who is in office.
“We want to counter the pre-professionalist aspect that a lot of clubs on campus have,” Yazdan Panah said. “It is important to make sure it does not feel like a competition. We really are just in it together to fight for the progressive movement.”
Penn Government and Politics Association
Penn Government and Politics Association is the largest, non-partisan political group on campus, GPA president and College senior Sumant Rao said. He added that the organization’s three branches — Penn Political Union, Polybian Society, and Penn Political Review — work cohesively to encourage and fuel civil discourse among students from different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs.
“We are really excited to do speaker events that allow the audience to engage with speakers,” Rao said. “One of the big missions of [Penn Political Union] is to not just host speakers, but we want to also allow students the opportunity to challenge our speakers.”
Rao said that GPA's formal political debate branch, Penn Political Union, and its informal section for political discussions, the Polybian Society, were most affected by the virtual transition caused by the pandemic. While GPA continued to host speaker events online through Zoom, Rao said the debates were harder to organize and execute online. He anticipates attendance to increase now that members can meet in person again.
Penn Political Union's first on-campus event will take place this Thursday at Perry World House and feature former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who will speak about the future of justice in America. The branch hosted an event during New Student Orientation where members debated whether or not corporate and education institutions should pursue diversity and inclusion initiatives. Rao said the Polybian Society plans to continue hosting weekly events where members can exchange views on current events and different topics.
“I, personally, have made a lot of my friends through the Polybian Society,” Rao said. “These events were definitely a little less attended when we had to put them online. Now, we are all really excited to be back on campus so that we can really foster that social environment.”
Penn Political Review, GPA’s political magazine that regularly publishes online and print editions, was the least impacted by virtual programming according to Rao as writers and editors continued pitching and creating content published online. Rao said the magazine is excited to create three print editions this year.
Looking forward, Rao said the organization is hoping to partner with other political groups at Penn to create more open dialogue on campus.
“One of [the] things I love about Penn students is that they tend to be politically involved and knowledgeable about politics,” Rao said. “There are so many different activist groups on campus – many of which GPA has co-sponsored events with. I hope political activism stays this strong on campus.”
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