Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Swarthmore Voter Registration Coalition (SVRC) originally sought funding from the Social Affairs Committee because members felt that a screening of the presidential debate on Parrish Beach would appeal to many students. SVRC organizers were not left disappointed Thursday night, when a day of on-and-off rain cleared to allow (by this writer’s estimate) well over 200 students to pack the lawn in front of Parrish West to watch presidential candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush debate foreign policy.
SVRC, which has done extensive work registering voters both on campus and off (in Chester and Upper Darby), arranged not just for a venue for many students to gather to watch the debate but also for an entire night of non-partisan activities. Students began to make their ways to the Beach as night fell to take advantage of SVRC’s open mic. A rear projection screen was set up to allow students to sit either in chairs or on a tarp laid out in front of the chairs; by the time the debate started at 9:00 p.m., every seat was full. Students took advantage of refreshments provided by SVRC, devouring a sizable stack of pizzas before the debate even officially started.
During the debate, many students took a pit stop from their trips to their dorms or the library to watch a bit of the debate. It was reported that President Bloom was in attendance, though this writer could not confirm the sighting. Reaction to the dialogue between the candidates was heavily in favor of Kerry, who received hearty applause rather often. The crowd also seemed to express its displeasure with President Bush’s policies and manner of speech, breaking out into groans or laughter at several points.
An added bonus for students after the debates were discussion groups formed with the assistance of Professors Ben Berger and Keith Reeves, both of the Political Science department. Though most of the crowd dissipated after the candidates’ closing arguments, a good number of students seemed interested in staying for discussion.
Asked his opinion on the event, SVRC member Tim Roeper ’07 said: “I am amazed. I think it’s fantastic…that we had this community event.” SVRC event organizer Ethan Ucker ’07 added that he thanked everyone for coming and was very pleased with the turnout.
SVRC plans to have similar events for screenings of future debates and the election returns on November 2nd. During Thursday’s event students were also urged to register to vote, using forms that SVRC had brought to the screening.
The debate screening was sponsored by SVRC, the President’s Office, SAC, and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. SAC originally chose not to fund the event, but Student Council overrode that decision during its meeting this past Tuesday.