Political groups on campus shared their plans for the spring semester with The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Leaders from Penn Government and Politics Association, Penn Democrats, College Republicans, and Penn Justice Democrats agreed that it is essential to follow Penn's new guidelines for campus events and gatherings outlined in their most recent statement due to the surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide, but they hope that it will be safe to return to face-to-face meetings and events in the upcoming weeks.
Penn Government and Politics Association
Penn Government and Politics Association president and College junior Josh Rose said that he does not anticipate that the virtual start to the semester will significantly derail GPA’s plans, given that the group has some experience dealing with hybrid programming in the past few years.
GPA is planning to bring a few speakers to campus this spring — in person if COVID-19 guidelines allow. Penn Political Union, one of the branches of GPA, is planning to host former National Security Adviser John Bolton of the Trump administration on campus, according to Rose.
Rose said that he is most looking forward to engaging with the other members in GPA and continuing political dialogue among the Penn community.
Penn Democrats political director and College sophomore Lucy Kronenberg said that a big focus of this semester will be continuing the club's voter engagement and education initiatives ahead of the upcoming primary election this May.
Last semester, Penn Democrats registered 379 voters before the general election in November. Kronenberg said that she hopes to continue the club’s robust voter registration drives and provide resources to the Penn community to explain what is on the ballot and how to vote.
Kronenberg told the DP that being on campus with in-person programming last semester felt "refreshing," as it allowed Penn Democrats to bring more local speakers to campus and meet with one another safely.
"There's a huge difference between in-person and virtual events. It is much more exciting when you get to be in a room with someone, and I think it makes for a much more engaging event," Kronenberg said.
In light of Penn’s recent announcement, Penn Democrats is planning on starting the semester with virtual programming and events. When possible, Kronenberg hopes that the club will be able to focus more of its efforts this semester on positively impacting the West Philadelphia community.
"We will have to try it by ear, based on COVID-19 restrictions, but we hopefully want to be able to dive into more community service or engagement events," Kronenberg said. "We hope to volunteer at community fridges or meet with more local organizations who are doing important advocacy work in our community."
College junior and vice president of College Republicans Harrison Selznick said that during a typical semester, the group hosts several speaker events and participates in philanthropic endeavors.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, and because it is not an election year, Selznick said that College Republicans has become a social group in addition to a politically oriented club. He added that joining College Republicans provides conservative thinkers the opportunity to socialize with like-minded individuals.
With COVID-19 restrictions back in place this semester, College Republicans plans to hold more social events for their members such as virtual game nights — though Selznick added that he hopes Penn will ease their COVID-19 restrictions so the club can transition to in-person meetings and speaker events.
Selznick said that another goal of College Republicans this semester is to form better relationships with other political groups on campus.
"We are looking to get to know the people behind the ideas that are on the other side of the aisle so that we can work together to decrease the political divisiveness that has become so rampant since the 2020 election cycle," Josh Fraizer, a Wharton freshman and co-political director of College Republicans, said.
Penn Justice Democrats
Penn Justice Democrats is planning to continue advocating for progressive causes this semester through both electoral and non-electoral organizing, according to the club's communications director and College senior Jack Cahill.
One of the club’s main goals this semester is to continue its speaker series with prominent progressive thinkers. Last year, it hosted online events with Noam Chomsky and Cornel West. Cahill said that the club is planning an in-person panel addressing the role of labor movements in American politics, but is waiting for updated COVID-19 guidelines to finalize the date.
Cahill said that the club is also discussing the possibilities of phone banking for labor issues such as the Amazon union vote in Bessemer, Ala., and spearheading labor initiatives on campus.
"We have seen a resurgence of strikes and union organizing, and we are going to integrate that conversation into our programming for the future," Cahill said. "As an organization, we believe that both electoral and labor organizing are key and advancing progressive left-wing movements."
Looking forward to the upcoming primary and general elections this year, Penn Justice Dems plans to use their resources to educate voters about their positions and endorsements along with partnering with other groups on campus to maximize their outreach, according to Cahill.
Cahill said that Penn Justice Dems created a positive and meaningful atmosphere on campus for students last fall. Being in person allowed the club to foster a sense of community through social events, including picnics and BYOs, Cahill added.
Once it becomes safe to do so, Cahill said that he is excited to meet face-to-face again.
"Our campus is saturated with pre-professionalism and mainstream liberalism, and we want to change the status quo,” Cahill said. “That includes educating people. That includes canvassing. That includes not just electoral organizing, but labor organizing as well.”