Last weekend, April 27-28, student Democrats from across the state descended on Poughkeepsie for the College Democrats of New York (CDNY) Annual Conference. The event was hosted jointly by Marist College and Vassar College. Marist’s portion of the event took place on Saturday, while Vassar’s section was on Sunday in Taylor Hall.
The CDNY Annual Conference allows member organizations to meet and make changes to the CDNY’s constitution. It also serves as the venue for elections in which members of individual Democratic groups can be appointed to positions of leadership in the larger organization.
Head of Vassar College Democrats David Lopez ’13 attended the conference and explained that while each campus Democratic organization has its own executive board, the umbrella organization CDNY also has an executive board providing coordination. Additionally, the state is broken down into various regions, each of which has a position of leadership to which student Democrats may be elected. Lopez stated that as a senior, he was especially encouraged by the participation of freshman members. One Vassar student, Marty Ascher ‘16, was elected Hudson Valley Regional Chair of the College Democrats of New York.
“I have always been interested in progressive politics and hope to run for office one day. I saw the Vassar Democrats as a way to become involved in local politics, and discuss national politics with people who share my interest,” said Ascher. He described how the duties of his position included dialogue with other regional chairs and with the CDNY executive board. Ascher will be responsible first to convey the interests and concerns of Democratic organizations in the Hudson Valley, and second to keep the local groups updated on the activities of their fellow college Democrats.
Asked for his feelings on the event, Ascher maintained, “I’m not sure if there was one big take home message for the conference. I did realize the potential that the College Democrats of New York have as an organization if the various colleges work together to achieve our common political goals.”
Commenting on the future plans of VC Democrats, Lopez believed the group needs to retain the momentum they gained during 2012, a national election year, and carry it forward. He noted that while the past year saw major national elections, there are a number of local races in which he would like to see Vassar students involved. Additionally, he highlighted specific issues he saw as important to the group including LGBTQ issues, reproductive rights issues, and immigration. He said, “I feel those are three big social issues we’ll see a lot of.” Next year, the group will be headed by Evan Seltzer ‘14.
Lopez was also excited about the potential for VC Democrats to build connections with Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, the conference’s keynote speaker. Maloney’s district includes the Poughkeepsie area, so contact with him is a direct channel for students at Vassar to influence politics. Lopez hopes that the group can maintain relations with Maloney and potentially visit him in Washington.
According to Lopez, his biggest discovery at the conference was a renewed appreciation of diversity, both across the state and within individual groups, “There’s an assumption that we all think the same way. I think it’s really important that we’re able to have a very successful dialogue when we don’t agree.”
Lopez continued, “Even though everyone there may consider themselves a Democrat, it’s important to see that there’s strength in having a diversity within your own group.”
He emphasized that having a variety of opinions should be considered a strength and not a weakness for a political group. “At the end of the day, we were still in the room, still college Democrats, even if we didn’t agree on every single thing.”
Meanwhile, Vassar’s Moderate Independent Conservative Alliance (MICA) seeks to create a space for students who would like to express alternative viewpoints on a predominantly liberal campus, according to Julian Hassan, the group’s leader. Hassan also sees diversity in his organization as crucial, and focused on MICA’s individualistic bent; since the group includes a wide spectrum of political views, members must coexist while developing their own views. Hassan noted that the group’s composition has altered significantly over the years: “For a while, MICA became a blue-dog Democrat group.”
“MICA is being renamed Independent-Republican Alliance,” Hassan continued. He explained that this was to refine the group’s appeal towards their original constituency. He says the group wants to reduce the group’s pull towards moderate Democrats.
When asked about his own reasons for participating, Hassan replied, “I’m an activist.”
He added that many of the other campus organizations did not share his opinions, and that MICA provides a welcome outlet for his political passions.
While MICA’s relations with other college groups are not as formal as those of the VC Democrats, Hassan was quick to point out ways in which the organization coordinates with others with similar views. Currently, MICA is joining the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It is also registered with Students for Liberty, one of the nation’s largest libertarian groups.
Hassan also spoke about MICA’s partnership with the New York Heroes Society, a group for conservative intellectuals. MICA often hikes with members of the Society in local areas such as Storm King Mountain. Partnership with others is high on the agenda for both ends of the political spectrum.