by Santiago Nariño, Northeastern University, CDM President and Emily Stetson, UMass Amherst, CDM Communications Director
These last few months have been a period of mourning for our peers. Many of us are just starting to come to terms with the reality of Donald Trump’s administration as the first few executive orders are signed, and as more and more cabinet members’ appointments are confirmed. Even in a reliably blue-state like Massachusetts, we’re beginning to feel the weight of what it’s like to be a Democrat under a Republican executive and legislature.
For those of us who are still left to pick up the pieces in its aftermath, the Democrats’catastrophic loss in the most recent election cycle leaves us wondering; how the left can rebuild what we’ve lost? If we’re being perfectly honest, we’ve noticed that the Democratic party has been slowly losing momentum for a while now. However, Donald Trump’s election to the White House might be just the wake-up call, and the opportunity, that we need as a party to re-establish our priorities and to reimagine what youth engagement can look like.
Although the College Democrats of Massachusetts have historically played key roles in getting Democrats elected at the local, state and federal level, in doing so, we have consistently attracted the same folks who were already exceedingly interested in politics and had already defined themselves as Democrats. Through some introspection, trial and error, and organization in more social justice concentrated spaces, it became clear to us that politics as usual was not working; that apathy within our communities was not out of a lack of interest, but of lack of knowledge in political processes and a distrust of the political system. This last election proved that we haven’t done enough to combat these feelings. Perceived “outsider” candidates surged on either side of the political spectrum while voter turnout declined to its lowest point in twenty years.
In other words, our party has continuously touted this image of progress, while time and time again, inviting the same faces to be seated at the metaphorical table. As student organizers, we saw this need to change the direction of youth engagement to ensure that we allowed as many folks to the table as possible, and we’ve taken the initiative to take steps towards that new direction.
When our executive board initially began planning for the 2016-17 academic year last April, we made sure to set the community at the focal point of our goals. We adamantly believe that these local, grassroots groups, including labor unions, immigrant groups, and religious organizations, that are tirelessly working on specific, relatable, issues every single day deserve to be at the center of the work that we do, and we’re constantly looking for ways in which we can better partner with and support them. Through those partnerships, we have been able to join the political power of young college students with the political expertise of the groups that are doing the hard, ground work for the American people every single day.
Throughout the process of building these strategic partnerships, we’ve started shaping a new definition for what it means to be political; one that emphasizes training and education through means such as the workshops conducted by our various caucuses, as well as training sessions to ensure that any and all coalition partners, including our twenty chapters and many associated university cultural student groups, have the tools to fight for their communities, whether it be through direct action, education or lobbying.
Although a continuous work in progress, CDM has begun reinventing the role of young political groups in community engagement, by humanizing the issues that our party seeks to address and building coalitions with those affected by those issues. To date, we’ve amassed nearly 400 members across the state, 20 chapters at Massachusetts colleges, and 8 issue-based caucuses. Over the election season, we collectively registered over 3,00 new voters and personally knocked on 3,000 doors over seven membership-wide canvassing trips to New Hampshire.
But this is just the beginning. Now that the election is over, and especially in these challenging contexts, our work continues. Looking forward, our organization is preparing to engage in advocacy efforts ranging from issues involving higher education equity, to banning conversion therapy practices, and to advocating for livable wages. Just some of the partners that we look forward to working with include Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Raise Up Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, and even Massachusetts State Senators and Representatives. Recently, our organization has started the initial phases of fundraising for a multi-day workshop on unpacking racism that may persist within ourselves and our institutions.
In addition to improving our relations with people and groups external to our organization, we’ve been making continued efforts to improve interpersonal relationships within CDM. To encourage cooperation, instead of letting internal divides go unaddressed, we’ve opened ourselves to criticism and contrasting opinions, starting with our organization’s publication, SPEAK. First launched in August 2016, our publication seeks to provide any and all of our members with the opportunity to share their opinions, concerns, and critiques of the Party’s policies and activities.
We’ve also continuously opened areas for respectful dialogues and debates at each of our physical meetings at locations across the state. For example, we’ve invited representatives from opposing sides of ballot initiatives to debate one another in the past. We’ve opened the floor for questions and answers with each of our guest speakers. In less than two weeks, we plan on having a roundtable discussion with our guests, our members, and even attending high school democrats, regarding our reactions to the new Trump administration, and what different strategies might look like for our party, and our state federation, moving forward under this presidency and beyond.
Despite all the uncertainty surrounding our Party at this moment is time, one thing is clear to us. This organization can no longer be about building our résumés up until we figure out what comes next after graduation. It has to be about building bridges, and building trust with the communities we seek to serve. And that job starts right now.