I don’t have to tell you that a lot of Yalies go on to get involved in American government. Depending on your convictions, you can make your own list of the good, bad and ugly examples. (We may even agree about where to place, say, William Howard Taft). Should you be nurturing secret (or not-so-secret) aspirations to national leadership, recent evidence would counterintuitively suggest you’re best off staying as far away from “campus politics” as possible. But the rest of you will find that Yale really does have a wide range of political groups who so colorfully harassed you at Bulldog Days, as well as a few more whose members all overslept.
Some Yalies devote themselves to engaging in debate on pressing issues like health-care policy and whether women should be allowed to vote. The latter question is up for debate only at the Yale Political Union, where politicians, policy wonks and the occasional foreign dignitary show up each week to debate the issues and get hissed at by students in bow ties or occasionally receive some approving thigh-striking from students in bow ties. And every week, each of the YPU’s six political parties — three for conservatives, one for liberals, one for people who like drinking and one for people who are running for president — meets to debate the issues that divide its membership (what to drink, women’s suffrage, etc.).
Other students take on the issues in print, be it in the Politic (theme: contributors who are already famous), the Yale Journal of Human Rights, the Globalist, Manifesta, the right-wing Light and Truth (glossy pages) and Yale Free Press (not so glossy), the left-wing Hippolytic (more recent, with hopes of someday being glossy) or here in the Yale Daily News. Last November, a group of Yalies joined jilted liberals on other campuses to found the Roosevelt Institution, a student think tank out to make sure your seminar papers land on a desk at the Pentagon. Hope you spell-checked.
Another group of students devotes its energies to lobbying, agitating or organizing for policy change. Of course, the hottest game in the town is the group to which I’ve devoted a good part of my past three years here: the Notorious UOC (Undergraduate Organizing Committee). The UOC works to see our values as Yale students and New Haven residents realized here in the way Yale relates to its students, its employees and the city we call home. Last year, we mobilized students and pressured Yale’s leaders for financial aid reform, diversity on campus, negotiations with Yale’s graduate teachers and responsible development. Ours is the only group on campus which has an inspired a group on facebook.com devoted to opposing us — as well as some counter-protests from our libertarian friends in the Committee for Freedom.
If that fails to fully satiate your inner activist, try the Yale College Democrats or Republicans, both of which coordinate student work for political candidates, host speakers and lobby for legislation to move the state and the country forward or send them spiraling backward (your call). Halloween weekend last year saw pro-Kerry students set off to persuade and turn out voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida (the success rate was one out of three) and pro-Bush students do the same in New Hampshire (zero for one, but they got a hell of a consolation prize). This year, November will mean elections for the Board of Aldermen in each of New Haven’s wards. That includes Ward 1, which is made up almost entirely of Yalies. This month, Ben Healey ’04 resigned after four years in the position. To serve out his term, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has appointed Rebecca Livengood ’07; she’ll face a recent Yale graduate in this fall’s general election. Yale students are also particularly active in Ward 22, which includes four residential colleges, and Ward 2, which includes significant undergraduate and graduate off-campus housing.
Last year, Connecticut passed campaign finance and civil union bills that had attracted significant student attention from Students for Clean Elections, the Yale ACLU, the Queer Political Action Committee and the Dems. Meanwhile, the Reproductive Rights Action League of Yale and Choose Life at Yale square off over abortion, and the Yale Coalition for Peace and the Yale College Students for Democracy face each other down over the current war (and maybe the next one). The Black Student Alliance at Yale, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan, the Asian-American Student Association, and the Women’s Center all have political arms that push for equal opportunity and access on campus and beyond. The Yale Student Environmental Coalition advocates for environmental sustainability, the Student Legal Action Movement for prison reform, the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project for shelter and housing, Amnesty International for human rights, STAND for intervention in Darfur, and the Student Campaign for Child Survival — well, that one should speak for itself.
Many of these groups are members of Dwight Hall’s Social Justice Network, which provides training, information and lots of cash to activist groups on campus. And then there’s the slew of other groups I won’t mention here, though you can read about them in the justifiably angry letters to the editor they’ll send in response next week. Like the groups I mentioned, they’re all (well, almost all) worth checking out for yourself.
Unless, that is, you’re planning on running for president.
Josh Eidelson is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.