Amidst the first year of a controversial presidency with near-constant political turmoil, campus political groups such as the Swarthmore Conservatives and the Swarthmore Democrats are looking for ways to expand their outreach and build upon the progress they made last year.
The values of each club, while rooted at different points on the political spectrum, are currently leading to increased activism, and both clubs look forward to joining together for projects.
Swat Conservatives aims to promote free speech on college campuses. According to president Gilbert Guerra ’19, the club is a place where Trump supporters can share their ideas without feeling personally attacked but where they will still be challenged.
“It would be a challenge of their ideas, not their own personal merits,” he added.
Guerra explained that in past years, the goal of the club was to build a core base of about thirty participating members. The group was previously called the Swarthmore Republicans, with a base mostly consisting of moderate Republicans, but then it shifted to a general conservative society mostly comprised of socially conservative Catholic students and focused on socially supporting students with conservative ideologies. After that, more libertarian students joined, and now there are wide range of conservative-minded students, including an executive board whose members voted for Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson, or write-in candidates. Some chose to protest by not voting at all.
“There’s certainly a lot of debate within the group,” Guerra said, but the group is still unified in terms of how [they] act and treat each other.
Now, Guerra and other members of the club say they are looking toward more activism on campus, which includes bringing in non-controversial speakers who will bring intellectual, not inflammatory, discussion.
The club also has partnerships with organizations such as the Leadership Institute, a political nonprofit with conservative leanings. As stated by the organization’s website, its goal is to train conservative activists and students to “fight the left and win.” Other partnerships include the American Enterprise Institute, which Guerra hopes will bring “more dynamic speakers to campus and present alternative opinions,” as well as Turning Point USA.
TPUSA is, according to their website, a student movement for free markets and limited government. As the Phoenix covered in April, TPUSA has been the subject of national controversies. However, according to Guerra, the relationship with TPUSA is not monetary. The organization sends materials for students to express their political opinions but does not fund Swat Conservatives.
As for Swat Dems, activism is rooted not just on campus, but also in the Swarthmore community.
President Taylor Morgan ’19 noted that since the election, many members of the group are looking at more action-oriented strategies to engage their community. She noted that while the name Swarthmore Democrats evokes the idea of a politically moderate group, there is a variety of political ideology within its ranks, ranging from far-left to moderately left-leaning, to even some right-of-center members.
“What unites all of us is that we want to seek strategies that lift people up and raise up voices, particularly the people who have been silenced,” Morgan said.
Swat Dems is not affiliated with the Democratic Party at the state or national level, which allows the club to diverge from of the mainstream Democratic Party.
“We have the ability to stray from the platform and hold the national and state party accountable for things that we see as being necessary to be advocated for or spoken out about,” Morgan said.
In addition, this allows the club to take stances that are controversial or debated and that are radically different from most other Democratic groups. One example of this is on issues of Israel and Palestine.
“[The club has] explicitly [rejected] the Israeli government occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is pretty much something that you will never hear any Democrats say,” Swat Dems Vice President Ben Stern ’20 said.
The group is also looking for ways to actively participate in political events, such as registering voters for Pennsylvania elections, hosting flash phone banks, or bringing in speakers who might challenge the group.
Morgan stressed the importance of understanding “uncomfortable truths about what Democrats have done and meant to a lot of people” as well how college Democrat groups can improve.
The two organizations have made the effort to collaborate this semester, including hosting Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to speak about free speech. Swat Dems also discussed working in a bipartisan manner to fight gerrymandering and participate in local elections at their meeting on Sept. 26.
“We’re doing a lot more things that involve outreach to other groups on campus. This year, we’re hosting a lot of events with the Swarthmore Conservative Society, which I think is great. We’ve been able to have a lot of good bipartisan dialogue with them,” said Stern.
According to Stern, the two groups are working with other on-campus groups such as i20, the Swarthmore international club, and Deshi, the South Asian student organization on campus, for a disaster relief event.
Both presidents also said that they want their clubs to create beneficial change.
“[We want to] engage with and lift up members of the community, particularly the most unheard,” said Morgan.
Guerra also wants his group to be a constructive force.
“[Swat Conservatives is] trying to focus more on the positive things that we can change and ways that we can make the Swarthmore community a better place instead of just trying to tear it down,” Guerra said.
For these two clubs, activism can mean working together in a bipartisan way and having a discussion of political differences despite an increasingly divisive political climate nationwide.