In the wake of the 2004 presidential election, Danielle Gilbert ’08 and many of her friends felt intensely frustrated. U.S. Sen. John Kerry ’66 lost to President George W. Bush ’68, and groups of students called impromptu meetings to discuss their feelings of dismay. There was a critical lack of debate in the American political arena, Gilbert said, and they wanted to help fix the system.
Gilbert said she and her friends soon learned that students at Stanford University held a similar perspective and were trying to reach out to frustrated students at other schools. In December 2004, students at both universities decided to work together. They conceived of a liberal student-driven think tank — the Roosevelt Institution — to give students influence in the policy-making process.
“We’re about empowerment,” said Jesse Wolfson ’07, the president of the Yale Roosevelt Institution chapter and the director of publications for the national Roosevelt network. “We’re about bringing people together. [We] knock down barriers for students.”
After a mere 10 months in existence, the Roosevelt Institution has grown to 120 chapters nationwide. Last night, the Roosevelt Institution at Yale College held its launch event in the Berkeley College dining hall, which was attended by several hundred students and faculty. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro was a featured speaker at last night’s gala, as was her husband Stanley Greenberg, a former Yale professor and advisor to President Clinton. Both DeLauro and Greenberg stressed the need for ideas in modern politics.
“Politics isn’t about money,” DeLauro said last night at the launch event’s reception. “We chart new directions with ideas.”
In addition to the comments made by DeLauro and Greenberg, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73, in a pre-taped video appearance, commended the efforts of the Roosevelt Institution.
“Your work through this initiative is providing a way for unblemished facts and research and innovative ideas to be heard in Washington,” Clinton said.
College chapters of the Roosevelt Institution are divided into policy “centers,” each of which works towards achieving solutions to problems afflicting a particular issue. The Yale chapter is currently working on several projects that look at national energy policy and how it influences foreign policy, said Heather Heldman ’08, the co-chair of the institution’s security and foreign policy center.
The institution does not simply look at policy, Heldman said, but also develops it.
“Most new legislation isn’t coming from congressional offices, but from professional think tanks,” she said.
Heldman said the Roosevelt Institution gives students an alternative to the traditional modes of activism.
“[The institution is a] way to get involved without knocking on doors and making phone calls,” she said.
This October, the institution is launching the Roosevelt Review, an national student policy journal. The review consists of eight works of student policy research, with entries coming from all over America. One review article in its flagship issue, “Extraction vs. Taxation: What to do with ANWR,” suggests possible substitutes for drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while another article tackles the issue of AIDS in South Africa.
The review, which is currently available online, will be hand-delivered to every congressional office on the Hill during a launch event in Washington, D.C.
Even before the official launch Monday, the institution was receiving praise.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor-in-chief of “The Nation,” said in a press release that the Roosevelt Institution is capitalizing on the brain power of a little-used resource: college students.
“The Roosevelt Review will marshal the intellectual capital of the smartest students in America and its future leaders,” vanden Heuval said.
Greenberg, who spoke at the launch Monday night, said he hopes the Roosevelt Institution will help energize the American left.
“The Democrats are devoid of ideas,” Greenberg said. “This is a real moment for them.”
Ted Fertik ’08, the Yale chapter’s development director, said student observations and ideas deserve serious attention, and he believes the Roosevelt Institution will give them a forum for political discourse.
“Students were outraged with the lack of debate and creative ideas in the 21st century,” he said. “We have a perspective as students that can spark lively debate.”