February 6, 2004

Mock caucuses raise political awareness

Snow isn't the only thing storming campus this winter. It's election season once again, and while students will turn to the ballot box this November, many still have lingering questions: Who are the candidates? What are the issues? Does my vote even matter?

Students uninformed of the Democratic contenders braved the cold to attend a mock Democratic caucus this Tuesday night. Parliamentary debaters represented all seven Democratic presidential hopefuls. Ian Kemp, Adam Wesolowski, Tim Fletcher, Josh Steinman, Patrick McLaughlin, Bernardo Arrospide, and Jake Steinberg represented Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Joseph Lieberman, and Al Sharpton, respectively.

Each candidate was given five minutes to speak and two minutes to answer questions. The presentations concluded with a scheduled 45-minute discussion and mock vote.

The College Democrats (UCDems) and the Parliamentary Debate Team presented the event, along with help from the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) and Students for Dean, with funding from the Student Government Finance Committee.

Organizers planned the event mindful of student apathy surrounding the political process. Megan Chapman, a fourth-year in the College and member of YDS, said she felt that there has been remarkably little political discussion on campus. She cited a relative lack of mobilization on campus, pointing out that there are only two active candidate groups on campus, those in support of Dean and Clark.

Others, including Craig Segall, a fourth-year in the College and member of both UCDems and Students for Dean, were looking for more substantive discourse before making a decision. "We thought a caucus would be a useful way to bring together Democrats on campus to talk about what we want in a nominee," he said.

Quinn Bernier, a second-year in the College and board member of UCDems, echoed Segall's concerns, adding that researching all the platforms and policies of the various candidates would be very difficult and time consuming, something for which most students don't have time.

Nearly all in attendance were pleased with the quality of the presentations and discussion. Amrit Mehra, a second-year in the College, attended the event with a relatively naïve view of the Democratic candidates, saying he had done little research on the candidates and was still undecided on who to support. At the conclusion of the caucus, Mehra said he felt much more informed and was particularly impressed with Edwards.

The presentations began with Clark and progressed alphabetically, closing with Sharpton. Some candidates, including Kerry and Clark, provoked several comments from audience members. One individual pointed to Kerry's acceptance of corporate money while another noted Clark's support for the School of Americas, the U.S. Army's training base for Latin American soldiers.

Several people raised the issue of electability. Some suggested that Dean had little chance of defeating President Bush.

Lieberman, the Democratic senator from Connecticut and former vice-presidential nominee, was the subject of much ridicule throughout he event.

Arrospide, a second-year in the College speaking on behalf of Lieberman, began by joking that he still had "Joementum" before launching into his talk. Arrospide admitted that he felt Lieberman was a Republican in a Democrat's clothing, adding that while researching for his role, one of the few interesting points he found was Lieberman's claim that he called his mother everyday.

Midway through the event, an organizer drew applause when she informed the audience that Lieberman had dropped out of the race after failing to win a state in Tuesday's primaries.

Other candidates, such as Sharpton, excited relatively little debate except admiration for Steinberg's rhetorical skill.

During the discussion, audience members raised several general concerns. One student asked for the candidates' stance on the Middle East. Others were concerned with gay rights, a possible flag-burning amendment, and civil rights.

After listening to the candidates, audience members were asked to vote for a Democratic candidate. Howard Dean won with 15 votes. Clark received 10 votes, Edwards 8 votes, and Kerry 6 votes.

The results contrasted sharply with the national political tide. Dean, once perceived as the front-runner, has so far failed to win a single state. Kerry, who came in fourth, won both Iowa and New Hampshire and secured victories in four more states Tuesday night.

Patrick McLaughlin, a second-year in the College and debater who represented Dennis Kucinich, explained that Dean's stances, unlike those of Kerry, have broad appeal to students.

Either way, organizers were adamant that students should participate in the political process. Segall called the upcoming election the most important election of his generation, saying that he felt President Bush has destabilized the nation. "Bush has attacked the environment, the social safety net, and the international law system ferociously," he said.

Student organizations will be registering voters in the Reynolds Club on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students must have two forms of identification in order to process their registration.