Student-run political groups gear up for the Massachusetts primary

By Hannah Depin

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

The fast-approaching Massachusetts primary, scheduled for March 1, has brought an increased wave of political participation to the University of Massachusetts. Liberal and conservative student organizations alike are scrambling in an effort to make their peers rally for candidates and register to vote.

Attendance at the weekly meetings for the UMass Democrats, a student group dedicated to Democratic politics, has risen since last fall, according to the group’s president Michael Hout.

“The club follows a pattern where every presidential election cycle, our attendance rises,” Hout said.

Last Wednesday, 30 to 40 students from UMass, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College and Amherst College attended UMass Democrats meeting in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall.

But with members split between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the club will not officially endorse a candidate until the Democratic nomination is announced.

“That’s always been the group’s position,” said Pat Ingersoll, a junior legal studies and political science major.

However, members are vocal about which candidate they support, and the club promotes volunteering opportunities for both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns.

“A lot of our purpose has been to get UMass students to New Hampshire,” said treasurer Reily Connaughton. Small groups of UMass Democrats students canvassed for both Clinton and Sanders in New Hampshire last weekend, ahead of the Feb. 9 primary in that state.

Apart from UMass Democrats, Connaughton is involved with UMass for Hillary, a group that brings UMass and Five College students together to encourage young voters to “reconsider Hillary Clinton.”

According to Connaughton, Clinton supporters have gone to New Hampshire to canvas “as many weekends as possible,” and the group will “hopefully be doing more and more” volunteering if Clinton wins the nomination.

As previously reported by the Daily Collegian, the group UMass for Bernie Sanders has launched a dorm-storming campaign to encourage students to register to vote, and has already registered at least 400 student voters at UMass Amherst according to the group.

On Saturday night, a small group of UMass students boarded a bus to Manchester, N.H. to protest outside the Republican debate with the national organization Raise Up for 15. The group advocates for a $15 minimum wage, particularly on behalf of fast food industry workers. UMass students picketed with signs inscribed with the number 15 and the hashtag #FightFor15.

With nine Republicans still in the race, the UMass College Republicans Club “doesn’t seek to promote any one campaign,” according to group president Kyle Boyd. Instead, the club’s 30 to 40 active members meet weekly to discuss current events in American politics. Though everyone has “diverse interests,” recent discussions have centered on the Iowa caucus and predictions for the election season.

“It’s not easy to be a conservative individual on a liberal campus,” Boyd said. He added that the group welcomes the discussion of multiple ideas and viewpoints.

Independently from the UMass College Republicans, Boyd will be speaking at the Feb. 9 event “Opposing Views on American Politics” in the Student Union Ballroom at 7 p.m.

The debate, hosted by the student-run debate society University Union, will feature conservative and liberal viewpoints presented by Smith College associate professor Jim Miller, UMass  Economics Professor Gerald Friedman and UMass students. The two teams will debate various issues from the 2016 election cycle, according to the event’s page on the UMass Amherst Events Calendar.

“The event will give people something to think about and present other sides of the argument,” Boyd said. “With the polarized state of American politics, I think anything we can do to bring people closer to the middle is a positive thing.”

Hannah Depin can be reached at [email protected]