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Political groups continue activism

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Last fall, they knew Ohio roads like the back of their hands. They waged successful protests. They drafted their constitutions.

Campus political organizations set off a flurry of activity during the 2004 election fervor. A year later, they haven’t fallen off the map. In fact, they look forward to the rejuvenation an off-election year provides and have taken last year’s lessons to heart.

Here’s a glimpse of who they are and what they’re up to, as well as an introduction to some newcomers onto the political club scene.

Recruiting and expanding

Everyone’s been through Frosh-O.

But College Republican Frosh-O?

During the second week of classes, over 40 freshmen braved the truly unknown and, upon entering North Dining Hall, were met by College Republican officers who thrust them, again, into Frosh-O games – this time with a political twist.

The games, which included an envelope-stuffing contest and debates on why Barney the Dinosaur should be president rather than John Kerry, contributed to the group’s goal this year of better networking and leadership, said president Jonathan Klinger.

It’s working. Last year, the College Republicans had three leadership positions.

This year they have 36.

The group keeps its extensive hierarchy and 700-member e-mail list organized with bi-weekly meetings and six committees.

This semester, the College Republicans have co-sponsored a conference on terrorism, planned a social security debate and started a Thanksgiving clothing drive. They are now working towards a dorm-wide voter registration.

“I believe personally that you can’t have small government without a lot of activity and responsibility on the part of people for their fellow man,” Klinger said.

An additional goal, Klinger said, is to keep ties with the national party. Two weekends ago before the football game against Navy, they had a club tailgate to which they invited prominent Republicans, including Chairman of the Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman and several members of Congress.

Klinger hopes to both reaffirm and expand the perception of what it means to be Republican.

“During an election year, our goal is clearly to support the candidate,” Klinger said. “During an off-year, our big goal is to provide venues for our members to express their political views on campus, as well as to advance those views. Our responsibility is to show our conservative principles aren’t meant to prevent other people from pursing something, but that we have a responsibility to use our beliefs and values to promote a greater good.

“Progressive conservatism, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron,” Klinger said.

Sustained relevance

National elections can be overwhelming and exhausting, and no group knows this better than the College Democrats, whose campaign efforts last fall took them to Michigan, Ohio, Iowa and Tennessee.

This year, with the goal of “sustained relevance,” co-presidents Colin Taylor and Jamie Kralovec were heartened to see the sustained enthusiasm of club members.

The College Democrats, who also have bi-weekly meetings and a 700-name e-mail list, have goals in three areas: electoral, campus and long-term.

An overriding goal, the co-presidents said, is to bolster the Catholic Democrat argument. This includes a focus on social justice through economic policies, such as supporting the minimum wage project for campus employees. Next semester, they hope to bring a prominent Catholic Democrat to campus.

“At a place like Notre Dame, we have a unique opportunity to counter the perception that Republicans have a monopoly on morality and faith,” Taylor said. “It’s a two-way street. The De-mocrats are equally entitled to make arguments based on morality.”

Unceasing in their efforts for the local Democratic party, they have already begun to support Democratic Congres-sional candidate Joe Donnelly’s congressional run in 2006 and will help with a major local Democratic fundraiser this week.

“One of our goals is to bridge the divide between Notre Dame students and the local community,” Kralovec said. “The party significantly admires and is grateful for work of Notre Dame students in the same way that Notre Dame students exercising their democratic will would have not the opportunity if not for the local party.”

An off-election year, Kralovec said, also enables the group to focus on internal diversity in a group where there may be many “different shades of the same color.”

“Our goal is to reach out to a larger tent of ideas and to encourage people to voice their disagreements about certain issues,” Kralovec said. “I think it’s making for a more productive and more helpful group.”

Hitting the ground running

Internet campaigns, which were all the political rage last year, did not bypass Notre Dame.

Scott Wagner, now the president of the Libertarians, had always hoped someone would start such a club but thought it unlikely that Libertarians could find each other.

“So, embarrassingly enough, the facebook shows up,” he said, laughing.

Wagner invited like-minded students to join his political facebook group, “Libertarians.” Through this, he met club officers – now vice president Catherine Kent and speaker Dave Mangold – and thus the group began.

So what is a Libertarian?

“Libertarianism is basically the conception that the government’s responsibilities extend to defense and contract resolution and really nothing else,” Wagner said. “We basically support rolling back laws, rolling back government interference in people’s lives.”

The group holds bi-weekly meetings and has an e-mail list of about 150 names. They also co-sponsor the terrorism lecture series and are planning a free speech movie night and meetings with state party members this semester. The state of Indiana happens to have a particularly strong Libertarian party, Wagner said.

Last week, the group invited passersby in LaFortune to take a 10-question survey – “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” – in an effort dubbed “Operation Politically Homeless.” The participants’ answers placed them on a two-axis political spectrum, a broader scale than the typical left-right positions. Many were surprised at their own leanings.

“One girl ended up well into the liberal left and said, ‘But I love George Bush!'” Mangold said.

Participants were sent away with an invitation to the next Libertarian meeting.

Wagner said through promotions such as this, he hopes to get the word “Libertarian” on people’s tongues.

“A lot of people who aren’t really familiar with Libertarians, once they start looking into it, feel that it really resonates with them,” Wagner said. “It just makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.”

A network of support

Be forewarned – all Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians will be asked to win over the hearts and minds of women this semester.

These three college political organizations will debate women’s issues later in the semester due to the efforts of a new organization on campus, Women in Politics.

It’s an exciting step for a group that was denied club status last year on the grounds of having a too-specific appeal, president Meghan O’Connell said.

“We stuck together, kept working, reapplied. It was a pretty complicated process,” O’Connell said. “Pretty much our mission for the entire year was the challenge of having to fix mistakes we’d made [the] first time. We made sure our language was more inclusive for both major and gender.”

Their mission now: to provide a network of academic support both in Notre Dame and beyond, while remaining committed to topics concerning women and political science.

The group, which has 15 core members, has sponsored both this debate and the terrorism conference. An essential part of the club is its bi-monthly lunch discussions with professors.

The fruits of their labor have been quite satisfying, O’Connell said.

“Our first meeting, people wanted to do everything, we had to reign ourselves in!” she said. “To eventually agree on things and actually [be] doing them has just been incredible.”

And it’s not just about women, O’Connell said.

“We want all points of view – men, women, any person from any major,” she said. “If you are at all interested in politics, we want to help you out and give you a forum to help you develop and grow as a political person.”