February 5, 2008

Campus partisans greet election day

The University of Chicago Democrats (UC Dems) and the University of Chicago College Republicans (UC Republicans) have both been feverishly gearing up for today’s Super Tuesday primaries for months.

According to UC Dems President Hollie Russon-Gilman, the UC Dems have mobilized student volunteers for various campaigns, both national and local. Members have manned phones, canvassed Hyde Park, and tried to increase the visibility of Democratic nominees for office, she said.

“People are signed up to drive people to vote, others are working at polling stations,” Russon-Gilman said. “We’ve been riding the momentum.”

The UC Republicans have also been active in getting their members to participate in the political process, but like the UC Dems, they don’t believe in endorsing or working exclusively for one candidate during the primaries.

“We help students get involved, but I think it’s wrong and narrow to come out with one candidate. Our club has a very eclectic makeup,” UC Republicans director of campus operations Joseph Dozier said, adding that no single candidate had majority support inside the club. Russon-Gilman also cited the diverse political composition of the UC Dems in their decision not to endorse anyone.

After a day of volunteering with their respective parties, the two organizations are co-sponsoring a returns party at Hallowed Grounds tonight.

“It’ll be a relaxed social atmosphere,” Dozier said. “You wear your Obama pin, your McCain pin. I’ll probably wear my ‘Friends don’t let friends vote Democrat’ shirt.”

The returns party is just one of the many cooperative events the clubs have organized in recent months, including the upcoming annual UC Dems/UC Republicans debate. The groups also held a campus-wide voter registration drive during the first two days of the quarter.

“It was massive,” Russon-Gilman said. “We registered over 300 students in the first day and a half and reached even more students about the process of voting by absentee ballots and where to vote in person.”

Both Russon-Gilman and Dozier profess that the schism between the two groups was not always as apparent as it is today. However they said that they hope to foster a mutual respect between the organizations.

“The Democrats and Republicans[at the University] used to get along really well,” Dozier said. “But there was a dispute several years ago over cosponsoring a global warming event and the sides kind of separated. But I felt, ‘Why let two years of pettiness get in the way?’ So far we’ve only seen positive results from working together.”

Russon-Gilman similarly worked to change the atmosphere of her club.

“The Dems used to be a boys’ club with all these frat guys in the Bartlett Longe,” she said. “But my second year, we revamped the club and we’ve completely turned our outlook around.”

Both officers said there is something special about the University of Chicago that contributes to their friendly relations.

“The students [here] who do have opinions that may be completely different from yours want to hear your opinion,” Dozier said. “And they want to test that opinion as well, and they want their own to be challenged, and I think that separates us from a lot of universities where it’s so polarized.”

“If anything, people here want you to push back,” Russon-Gilman said. “They want you to debate them. There’s always open discourse. They’re always open to dialogue.”

But Dozier said that the political climate at the University does have some downfalls.

“Remember, more people showed up to protest the Uncommon App being knocked off than the divestment from Sudan,” he said. “This is not Columbia. The political activism on campus is very unique.”