Political action on campus not focused on presidential election


Contributed by Olivia Barry

Olivia Barry and family meet presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Andy Monserud

With a little over a month before Election Day, Whitman students are shaping their voting plans. On the Whitman campus, student political groups are turning away from the contentious presidential election and toward other forms of organizing, including promotion of down-ticket candidates, registering fellow students to vote and promoting discussion of political life beyond the ballot box.

The Whitman Socialists, formerly the Whitman Socialist Front, have looked away from the presidential election and toward the local ones. Sophomore Bryn Louise, the president of the Socialists, says that the club is focusing primarily on socialist philosophy and discourses rather than electoral politics, which they do not believe are an effective way to create change.

“Once we orient ourselves in our philosophy more, we might bring up the election, but I’m very critical of both Trump and Hillary,” Louise said.

The Socialists will, however, host county commissioner candidate Randal Son next week Son is a union member, Whitman alum, Walla Walla resident and supported Bernie Sanders during the primaries, making him a popular choice among the Socialists. Louise said that focusing on local issues like these more effectively achieves the goals of the Socialists.

“We’re not trying to start a revolution,” they said. “We’re just trying to make gains for people here in Walla Walla.”

The College Republicans, led by president Groover Snell and vice president Garrett Atkinson, both seniors, are also avoiding too much involvement in the presidential election. Apart from a showing of the documentary Clinton Cash, which discusses the Clinton family’s business affairs in a skeptical light, the group has largely stepped back from the election.

“I think, in this election cycle it’s a lot of voting against a candidate, and I do think there are a fair amount of people who will not be voting for Hillary Clinton,” Atkinson said. “Whether that means they don’t vote, they vote for Gary Johnson, or they vote for Donald Trump, that’s kind of up to them. But… as a club, we don’t have a position.”

Like the socialists, the College Republicans are focused more on philosophy than on electoral politics. The club, Snell and Atkinson say, is more focused on providing space for discussion that falls outside of Whitman’s usually left-leaning paradigm.

“We feel like there’s a really kind of dominant narrative on campus, and we’d like to present a little bit of the other side. And it doesn’t mean you have to agree,” Atkinson said. “If you hear certain ideas over and over from lots of different sources, I think eventually you’ll become a little bit biased. And that’s why I think our club’s a really good outlet for people who want to hear a little bit of a different perspective from the one you hear over and over again.”

While as Republicans, Snell and Atkinson are distinctly in the minority at Whitman, there is no political group targeting centrist Democrats active on campus currently. The Young Democrats briefly had a presence on the Whitman campus, but they have been inactive so far after founders Mateo Seger and James Lavery graduated last year. While plenty of Whitman students support the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton, there’s no formal organization supporting her on campus.

Olivia Barry and family meet presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Contributed by Olivia Barry
Senior Olivia Barry and family meet presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Instead, some students have struck out on their own to support candidates. Senior Olivia Barry volunteered for the Clinton campaign this summer at an event held by family friends. While there, she met the candidate and former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady. Now, she’s looking for opportunities to support the campaign while still attending to her responsibilities at school.

“I really wish to get involved. I think that there’s a lot that we can do, especially as students,” Barry said. “I think that we’re at a really big tipping point in our country, when we have the opportunity to effect change—as a millennial generation, as young people who are really informed, as people who can really shift the balance of power in the U.S.”

In addition, a small group of student volunteers, not affiliated with any particular organization, are endeavoring to register students to vote in Walla Walla, whatever their political orientation. The group, coordinated by senior Maia Watkins, will be setting up shop on weekdays in Reid Campus Center, Jewett Hall and Prentiss Hall until the Oct. 10 voter registration deadline.

“It’s not a particular group, it’s definitely not affiliated with anything partisan or issue-based. It’s really just about… getting out the vote,” said senior AnnaMarie McCorvie, who volunteered with the group on Monday. “And specifically trying to help people understand the benefits of voting in Walla Walla. With the national election, people are really interested in keeping their affiliation in states that may have more of a stake in the presidency than Washington does.”