Student political organizations get involved during national election season

February 24, 2016 by Jad Hamdan, Contributing Writer

Would it surprise you to know you live in one of the “bluest” place in America? In fact, you do. For the residents of the greater Williamstown area, that blue tends to shine through.

The College’s Democratic bend is surely a defining feature for some. From the distinct liberal flavor of our academic offerings to the vibrant liberal presence of student organizations across campus, it is hard not to feel this politically left lean.

But this clear passion for activism sits in stark contrast to the growing national pandemic of political apathy. And despite the boundless intellectual curiosity of our student body, even students at the College aren’t fully insulated from this widespread distaste for political participation.

However, as we move into the presidential primary season, and a rather tumultuous one at that, the political scene on campus has been revving up.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the current political spirit at the College has come from overwhelming support for Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

With the Massachusetts primary just around the corner, both Ephs for Bernie and Williams Students for Hillary are doing their parts to spark excitement for liberal politics in Williamstown.

For Caroline Atwood ’16, an active supporter of Sanders and one of the organizers of Ephs for Bernie, the experience working at the forefront of the Sanders campaign has been extremely valuable.

“Sometimes I spend all morning canvassing and organizing with folks over in North Adams and have really enjoyed getting to know them. They are 30 years older than me but we find so much to talk about because of our shared vision for our country,” Atwood said.

Since its founding in June, the progression of Ephs for Bernie has truly been a wild ride for all involved.

“We started off with our sights set on trying to convince Williams students that [Sanders] was viable and also the best candidate. We thought this might be hard, but it turns out [Sanders’s] momentum really spread. I would say [he] [is] favored by at least two-thirds of Democratic college kids nationwide, and that ratio isn’t too different at Williams. So we have really tried to expand our efforts beyond Williams,” Atwood said.

And because of Atwood’s and other members’ dedication to Ephs for Bernie alongside hundreds of other collegiate organizations supporting Sanders’ campaign nationwide, Sanders has begun to shake up the Democratic primary.

While Sanders has certainly garnered a lot of support across campus, there are a wide variety of student interests and perspectives at the College.

Another prominent political organization currently active on campus is Williams Students for Hillary. As Ephs for Bernie mobilizes in support of Sanders, Williams Students for Hillary campaigns and works to spread support for Clinton. The organization has set out to discover the best ways to garner support.

“We actually had a field organizer for Hillary who was the head field organizer in Berkshire County for Martha Coakley’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign come out and talk to us last week about what we can do in the lead up to Super Tuesday,” Meghana Vunnamadala ’16, a member of Williams Students for Hillary, said.

For members of this organization, the experience of watching support for Hillary foster at the College has been a fun and rewarding one.

“[One] exciting part is watching how support for Hillary is growing on this campus as more people have started openly and unapologetically supporting her,” Vunnamadala said.

However, a rather puzzling phenomenon is the distinct lack of an organized base of conservative campaigning on campus. This is perhaps a product of the truly remarkable liberal environment than can be felt and observed here at the College.

In some cases, Republican students have taken their own steps to try to become more active in conservative campaign efforts across the country. Conrad Harron ’17 and Annika Trapness ’17, for example, both worked for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign over Winter Study.

In general, the true work for many of these political organizations has been discovering how best to go about expanding the role of political activism and speech on campus. Getting the word out about candidate viability and gathering grassroots support are important and unique functions of political organizations on college campuses.

The current engaged political climate at the College goes beyond the campaign efforts of these specific organizations. Recently, there has been a resurgence of ideologically-driven dialogue on campus.

Organizations like Uncomfortable Learning have attempted to spark more challenging conversations within the community. Despite the limited presence of strong conservative voices and organizations on campus, these kinds of conversations have provided a space for engaging with more varied viewpoints at the College.

But beyond one’s political affiliation, the recent role of campaign enthusiasm at the College goes beyond the lines of party politics.

“In general, it’s been really amazing to be a Williams student and watch the student body get engaged with this presidential election,” Vunnamadala said. She also perceives this overall political surge as something unique to the 2016 election.

“As a freshman in 2012 during the Obama/Romney election, I don’t remember this much excitement or engagement with the political process, so I’m really happy that we are seeing so much time, effort and dialogue being put into what’s happening on the national stage. My favorite part of the experience has been getting to have substantive conversations about the candidates and their main agenda items,” Vunnamadala said.

Getting involved with current politics is about experiencing the world outside of the purple bubble and learning in a way that can’t necessarily be found in the classroom setting.

“That’s the cool part about being involved in campaign that’s bigger than Williams – it gets you out of the purple bubble and into the real world. I think I learn way more doing this than I would in a class to be honest,” Atwood said.

As the political season wears on, there is no doubt that the student organizations will continue to remain active in what has already been an exciting and surpsing election season.

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