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Record Swattie Turnout Helps Democrats Win Local Elections

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On Nov. 7, Democrats came out victorious as Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden won two seats on the Delaware County Council. This was the first time in over 30 years that Democrats have secured seats on the Council, which has historically been Republican dominated. Many community members were involved in helping campaign for the Democrat candidates as signs that read “Zidek Madden Vote Nov 7th: Bring Sanity Back” were dispersed throughout the County. The Swarthmore College Democrats parallelled these efforts by campaigning on campus to students; their efforts were rewarded when Swarthmore College student voter turnout was the highest ever for a local election.

Taylor Morgan ’19, president of Swat Dems, was approached by the County Democrats and candidates after their win and thanked for the student turnout.

“I heard from the people at the polling place, and also at a victory party at the Inn later that night, from the County Democrats and the candidates, that this year was the most significant turnout of Swarthmore students for local elections. All the candidates came up to me at the victory party that night and were thrilled at the engagement and involvement of Swarthmore students canvassing, voting, and in other ways supporting their candidacy,” said Morgan.

Swat Dems’ efforts started way before election day and extended past the college campus. According to Morgan, the organization’s strategy was to provide information about the election, both about the campaigns of the different candidates, and on the logistics of the voting process, in order to actually help students to go out and vote on Nov. 7.

Before the election, Swat Dems worked to enable students not only to vote, but also be involved in the campaigning process.

“I brought in two canvassing trainers to campus and hosted about 19 students who got trained to do paid canvassing. Secondly, we had a ‘Get Out the Vote’ operation which consisted of phone banking; canvassing around campus; dorm storming, which consisted of putting voter day information under the doors; tabling in Sharples to sign people up to drive shuttles; and to volunteer for campaigns,” said Morgan.

On the day of the election, Swat Dems were joined by the Sunrise Group and the Swarthmore Conservative Society to coordinate efforts to get people out to vote. President of Swat Conservatives Gilbert Guerra ’19 said that his group abstained from endorsing specific candidates but still believed it was important to get out and vote.

We joined in the Get Out the Vote effort by advertising it on our social media accounts and by tabling on the day of the election,” said Guerra.

Swat Dems also tried to incentivize students to go vote through food trucks.

“I researched two Black-owned businesses in the area, and I found two food trucks with the help of Andy Rosen, who is the chair of Swarthmore’s Farmer’s Market called Plum Pit Bistro and Catering, and The Sweetest Rose Cupcake Company. So we incentivized students to go vote through food catering. We encouraged students to get on the volunteer shuttles behind the food trucks before or after they were getting their food. And I think this really channeled a lot of students to get in the car and go down the street to vote,” said Morgan.

Morgan was also able to get community members to volunteer as drivers through connections from previous local campaign work.

“I was able to secure 17 local drivers who functioned as volunteer shuttles throughout the day, who used their personal time and vehicles to just drive Swarthmore students back and forth from the polling places,” said Morgan.

Morgan was hesitant to call the Democrats gaining seats a victory but is still optimistic about the future.

“I’m hesitant to call it a win because that implies that the challenge leading up to Tuesday is over, but on the contrary it has just begun. Delaware County, the college, and the community members have been facing complete obstruction and this is due to the Republican Machine. But now, we actually have people who recognize a lot of community needs and crises that are happening locally, that are at the table, and they can at least impart change that has for so long been obstructed. So to me, the ‘win’ means that there is a more likely chance that people will be able to access these changes, not necessarily that these changes will come,” said Morgan.

Morgan described the ‘Republican machine’ as a product of gerrymandering, which is the manipulation of district boundaries to provide advantage to one political party.

“Our district is the most gerrymandered district in the country. This is largely due to the regime of Republican machine in Delaware county. In college courses, Delaware County is held up as an example of what gerrymandering is and the dangers of it. And so the people that were elected, named Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden, have come out publicly against gerrymandering and have actually supported legislation that works at dismantling it. Also, Delaware County has the only for-profit prison in the state of Pennsylvania, and this is due to [Republican backing over the years],” said Morgan.

Peter Foggo ’21, a Democrat, decided to partake in local politics because of this Republican machine that Morgan described.

“I decided to participate in the local elections mainly because Delaware County has historically been controlled by Republican officials, but after the outrage following the most recent presidential election, I think that a lot of people in Delaware County realized that change was not only needed, but a realistic goal,” said Foggo.

Yasmeen Namazie ’19 echoed the importance of local politics bringing change to greater political platforms.

“I went out and voted because I understand the significance of local elections and their power in informing federal policy outcomes. After the Trump election, the Republican stronghold in the Senate and House has created a shortage in Democratic influence. As a Democrat, I want Democrats in local leadership to regain the House in 2018 and reverse the draconian policies implemented by the Trump administration: reinstate DACA, fund Planned Parenthood, repeal the travel ban, etc,” said Namazie.

Morgan hopes that this recent success will motivate students to get more involved in future democratic processes.

“To the group as a whole, I think that precisely because there was such a clear link between student engagement and victory, maybe students will be more likely to be involved in the future. And maybe, exactly this will kind of change the way students see the significance and effect of local politics,” said Morgan.

College conservatives and democrats emphasize activism and collaboration

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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.

Groups work with Swarthmore Conservatives

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CORRECTION: The title of this news article previously read “Lobbying groups work with Swarthmore Conservatives.” “Lobbying” has been removed to more accurately reflect the content of the article.

Recently, the Swarthmore Conservative Society was distributing materials belonging to the organization Turning Point USA, which is known for its documentation of professors with liberal values.

TPUSA is a youth group that promotes principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government on campuses across the country. The organization was the subject of controversy earlier in the year when students at Santa Clara University attempted to establish a campus chapter and were denied official status after a group of students vocalized their criticisms of the organization. According to an article in the Washington Times, the students in opposition attempted to link the organization to white nationalist groups, but they could not provide evidence when another student asked for reasoning.

President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society Gilbert Guerra ’19 doubted the validity of the students’ claims with regards to the organization.

“In my experience, [TPUSA has] been a pretty ethnically diverse group, so I don’t see where the whole white nationalism claim would be,” said Guerra.

TPUSA was also the subject of criticism when it launched its Professor Watchlist in November to monitor professors the organizations it believes promote anti-American values, according to an article in New York Magazine. As of then, the list included 197 names of professors whom the organization pegged as discriminatory against conservative students and whom the organization claims advocate “leftist propaganda” in the classroom.

Ben Stern ’20, the vice president of the Swarthmore Democrats, believes that the organization is not representative of SCS, but does not feel that the society should be exempt from criticism.

“I don’t think we shouldn’t be critical of Swat Conservatives for having any involvement with TPUSA, … but I don’t think it’s representative of them. I think that you can work with other organizations without endorsing their policies,” Stern said.

According to Guerra, SCS is partnered with Students For Liberty, Turning Point USA, the Leadership Institute, and the Foundation for Economic Education. He refrains from using the word “endorse” when describing the group’s partnerships with outside political organizations.

“I wouldn’t use the word ‘endorse’ necessarily; it’s a different relationship than that. I think we share lots of common values … we’re not going to have a perfect overlap with their agendas and activities, but in terms of a general support for things like free market economics,” he said.

According to assistant dean and director for student engagement Rachel Head student groups choose to partner with external organizations on their own terms.

Guerra emphasized his goal for SCS to maintain some independence from the organizations.

“It’s always been important to me personally to maintain independence from those larger groups, so that we don’t necessarily have to answer for things they may do that we don’t agree with,” Guerra said.

According to Guerra, SCS receives promotional materials such as books and stickers from the organizations, but they do not actively engage with them. Rather, Guerra prefers to plan events and hire speakers independently.

“So far under my own reign, we haven’t brought in any speakers affiliated with [the organizations] … When I’m inviting speakers, I’m really looking for someone who can bring interesting and convincing arguments to Swat students in a way that Swat students will understand … I’m looking for someone who can actually make arguments that could reasonably sway someone in the middle or at least make them more open,” Guerra said.

In the fall, the American Enterprise Institute sponsored a talk by Charles Murray, a political scientist who has been accused of advocating a white nationalist ideology. Stern noted that AEI is separate from SCS and that it has an independent executive council on campus.

Other political groups on campus are not affiliated with outside organizations. The Swarthmore Democrats are independent and are not chartered or sponsored by outside groups.

“We choose to be independent partially because, at this school, a lot of people aren’t particularly fond of the Democratic party, and we want to be independent. We don’t want to be representative of the Democratic party,” Stern said.

Professor of political science Benjamin Berger urged students to think before questioning student political groups with regards to their connections to outside organizations.

“Suggesting that student political groups not connect with outside political organizations is a very slippery slope. Students should think twice, and then a third and fourth time, before descending it,” wrote Berger.

 

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