The Party of the Left petitioned to join the Yale Political Union on Friday, making it the first new party in 10 years to be provisionally accepted into the YPU.
The POL, which aims to foster rigorous debate among liberals on campus, was accepted as a petitioning party in the Union, though it is still not yet fully recognized by the YPU. Party chair Paul Selker ’08 said the group’s membership in the Union will become official once 25 of its 49 members have qualified as voting members, which he said will likely happen at the end of the semester. The party was founded last semester in response to widespread dissatisfaction with the proliferation of an “intellectually bankrupt” left in the United States, Selker said.
While some Union members said the new party will create the opportunity for more rigorous and formal intellectual discussion from a liberal perspective, several members representing the left-of-center coalition in the YPU said such discussion already exists. Others said the POL will only serve as an additional encumbrance on the already sizeable YPU.
In order to enter the Union, a new party must submit signatures from students pledging to join the party equal to one-sixth of the YPU’s current active members. The POL submitted their petition for membership before Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at a YPU debate last Thursday.
The last party to join the Union was the new Conservative Party, which was established in 1996, YPU Speaker Kirstin Dunham ’07 said.
YPU President Roger Low ’07 said he is pleased that the POL will bring more balance to the Union’s political spectrum, which currently boasts three right-leaning parties — the Party of the Right, the Conservative Party and the Tory Party — but only one left-leaning group.
“One of the things that many people have criticized the YPU for is having too much of a conservative bent,” Low said. “The Party of the Left is getting rid of that.”
The POL has attracted a relatively large following because many students have become frustrated with the direction in which the political left is heading, Selker said.
“Many people in my party see liberals in the country as not really having any concrete ideals,” he said. “We want to build new ideology and intensely focus on discussing principles rather than just policy.”
Selker said he is glad to see the POL on the cusp of full recognition, which was the long-term goal of founding chair Silas Kulkarni ’06 and the others who formed the group last year.
POL member Dara Lind ’09 said the desire for a left-leaning party that held formal debates grew out of frustration over how debaters from right-leaning groups are seen as consistently better speakers at YPU debates.
“This party is going to give the left the strong voice in the Union that it hasn’t had previously,” she said.
Students from other YPU parties expressed mixed reactions about the new petitioning party.
Party of the Right Chair Helen Rittelmeyer ’08 said while having seven parties in the Union may make the organization feel unwieldy, she thinks the POL will ultimately benefit the YPU by allowing left-leaning students to engage in the intellectual debate that the Liberal Party — the only other party on the left — currently does not offer.
“I am pleased that there is going to be an intellectually rigorous party on the left,” she said. “That can only be good for the Union — for both the left and the right.”
But Liberal Party member Noah Kazis ’09 said what is often identified as a lack of intellectual rigor in his party is in fact just a lack of formality.
“If you compare debate resolutions of [the Liberal Party and Party of the Left] over last semester, you’ll see that we’ve engaged more with philosophical ideas and less with policy,” he said. “The only difference is that they use parliamentary debate.”
Low said many more liberal YPU members in the past have turned to parties on the right in favor of a more formalized debate structure.
Some students said they see the POL as a replacement for the declining Progressive Party, which is widely known as a satirical party.
Lind, who was one of two students to drop out of the Progressive Party to join the POL, said although she was not particularly dissatisfied with her old affiliation, she is “10 times” more excited to be a member of the new party.
“I wasn’t finding the intellectual stimulation there that I realized I have been trying to find,” she said.
While the POL held three debates last year, Rittelmeyer said, the Progressive Party does not hold debates and thus seems “out of place” in the Union.
But Progressive Party chair Nikolaus Wasmoen ’07 said despite less interest in the party than usual, the POL should not be regarded as its replacement.
“The party has not had a lot of membership lately, but we are rebuilding,” he said.
The Yale Political Union was founded to encourage political debate among students in 1934 with the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party — which was renamed the Independent Party in 1975 — and the Radical Party — which became the Labor Party in the 1930s.