The College Dems

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I had a talk with College Dems president Molly Rivera yesterday at the Rathskeller. A junior, Molly grew up in Kenosha, WI. Her father is the former chair of the Democratic Party of the 1st Congressional District.

What has Rivera done to change the organization this year (not that they needed changing, she was quick to emphasize):

The development of “caucuses” (Obama fans have fond memories of caucuses). There are interest group caucuses, such as the LGBT caucus, a minority groups caucus, women’s caucus, and most surprisingly, the faith caucus. These groups meet every other week. Rivera discusses the concept as a way to get more members involved in leadership affairs, and allow more opportunity for discussion between members. People can feel distant and isolated at general membership meetings.

There are also issue caucuses. Currently there are three issues – health care, the environment and public education. Noticeably absent is any reference to foreign policy.

Rivera also said the Dems are taking the initiative to keep up with who’s coming to meetings, in order to retain more members. With a sign-in sheet at every meeting, the Dems are able to identify people who are coming consistently and maybe should be offered a chance to be more active. Frankly I’m surprised there aren’t simpler incentives: T-Shirts and Frisbees, for instance. Despite having an email list of over 4,000, Rivera says around 40 people will be present at any given general membership meeting. 1/100. Not bad.

When it comes to local issues, Rivera specified cleaning up the lakes and human services, such as the Rape Crisis Center, on the county level.

When I asked her who the Democrats main political competition was, she identified Progressive Dane, although she said she was “frankly impressed” with the Republicans’ improved message. She was stunned that Crystal Lee and Stephen Duerst publicly advocated repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and said they supported civil unions.

Co-ordinating endorsements in local elections is tough because the organization is obligated to support Democratic candidates. However, she said that when evaluating candidates she would not hesitate to bring PD into the dialogue, and talk to their candidates etc, which I found confusing considering that there really is no room for the College Dems to make a choice if there is a Democratic candidate in the race.

On Obama: “Disappointed but sympathetic.” “I want to see more done than ever. I want to see health care reform, I want to see the Stupak amendment [abortion restriction in the house health care bill] defeated. But I’m sympathetic because I know that’s not how government works.”

Predictable enough. But when I suggested that Obama did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize she was incredulous. “He won the Peace Prize. How about patriotism?”

But hasn’t he just continued Bush’s foreign policy? “What? He’s opened up a lot of doors in foreign policy. The perspectives and views conveyed to the world matter.”

What does Barrett need to do to win? “He needs to make clear that he has different policy ideas than Doyle but that they’re still in line with Democratic values.”

State Democratic weaknesses: “Gay rights. I don’t think they’re bringing it to the table enough. We have a ban on gay marriage in Wisconsin!” Rivera thinks if Barrett is elected the state could repeal the ban within four years. If a Republican wins, it could take longer.

Overall, I don’t have much to criticize. It seems like the Democrats have their act together, however, I think the foreign policy could be trouble in the future. As I reminded Molly, the College Democrats was the organization founded to offer an anti-war alternative to the pro-Vietnam Young Democrats in 1968.

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One Response to “The College Dems”

  1. Football Wars « Madison Sandinista Says:

    […] The Sconz has a nice interview with the head of Madison’s college Dems. […]

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