Like the rest of the Yale Political Union’s membership, I am saddened to see the Yale Socialist Party leave the Union. The Socialists brought rigorous leftist thought to the debate stage each week and invaluable friendships to me and fellow members of the Union. Thankfully, the latter will not change.
The Yale Political Union has a long and tumultuous history, as would any organization that has been around for 85 years. Some of our guests and debates throughout the years have created controversy and have been more divisive than constructive. An institution filled with passionate people from across the political spectrum is bound to face some degree of conflict, and the same occurs at our peer societies, such as the Oxford Union.
However, the Yale Political Union remains an important forum for political engagement at Yale. It is one of the few places on campus where people from both the left and the right meet each week to debate thoughtfully about the most pressing issues of the moment. Throughout the years, we have implemented a variety of formats, hosting debates between intellectuals, politicians and students, seeking the optimal way to be productive and charitable.
Members of the Socialist Party have mentioned that the format of the Union can engender abrasiveness rather than actual engagement. Recognizing this, we have worked to reform the debate format this semester, experimenting with longer speeches in order to develop more nuanced and substantive ideas.
Unfortunately, the Socialist Party considers the Union to be a place that cannot give voice to the left. As a person of color and a Democrat excited about Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy for president, I am disappointed to hear this. The departure of the Socialist Party is certainly disheartening, but I am confident that the Union can reform many of its strategies for engagement.
I also know that there are other members of the left who continue to be a part of our community. This includes not only the Party of the Left, which unites people from across the left to provide a forum for rigorous debate, but also the Progressive Party — a new party that seeks to join the Union and will serve as another important space for people to think about issues of equity and leftism in modern politics. The YPU also regularly brings leftist thinkers to Yale. Later this semester, for instance, we will be hosting a debate with Bhaskar Sunkara, the founding editor of the magazine Jacobin.
There are few places in politics today where people from the left and right have serious conversations about ideology. The Yale Political Union has been one of them. We occasionally make mistakes, sometimes in how we frame a debate or in how we approach people’s experiences. But I have often found that the Union is more than just a stage for people to speak on. It’s a community where discourse is encouraged through follow-up questions and conversations after events or in dining halls the next day.
Admittedly, many positions advanced on the floor of the Union have outraged some of its members, myself included. If, however, those of us who disagree with these arguments are unable to challenge them on their merits, surrounding ourselves with only like-minded people, we cannot possibly expect to defeat those threatening ideas, let alone convince others to implement the policies we prefer. The growing mentality on the right as well as the left of self-reinforcement and political isolation is nearly as frightening as many of the positions that need to be confronted.
According to its Constitution, the Union serves an important purpose: “to provide Yale with a non-partisan forum for parliamentary debate and to encourage the discussion of matters of public interest by other suitable means.” We can do better. We will continue to work hard to fulfill that mission with an eye towards charitability and being as constructive as possible.
I am confident that with members on both the left and the right, we can overcome this serious challenge to the very idea of a Yale Political Union.
Milan Vivanco is a junior in Pierson College. He is the President of the Yale Political Union. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .