As a spring noreaster darkened the backdrop of the annual College Democrats of New York State Convention on Sunday, April 15, the mood inside was buoyant. “It’s a great day to be a Democrat!” summed up one participant.
Indeed, many aspects of this year’s conference seem to the group’s members to augur a new day for the Democratic Party. “The biggest thing to happen for us,” said Scott Nichol, legislative affairs director of the University of Buffalo College Democrats, “is that since we took back control of Congress, and we took the governorship of this state…we had the leaders in position who supported our views…. What we wanted started to get done.” Nichol cited a modest but successful campaign his chapter undertook this past year to increase student financial aid.
“We have all these resources to draw on that weren’t even there five years ago,” enthuses Josh Bolotsky, president of College Democrats of New York. Indeed, the Drum Major Institute and Twenty-First Century Democrats, who sent representatives to the conference this year, have enhanced their student outreach programs, of late and Young People For, Living Liberally and Campus Progress all sprang to life in recent years.
Two key themes shaping this year’s conference were the cultivation of leadership among students and the importance of social networking. “One of the brilliant parts of the conservative movement has been viewing students not just as mere pieces of data but as collaborators and future authors of the movement,” said Bolotsky. “Look at Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist, Rick Santorum; they all came from College Republicans.” Moreover, after young Republicans are tapped to advance through the ranks, institutions like the Heritage Foundation provide an atmosphere where social bonds between bright young minds are reinforced. “It wasn’t as if [they] met each other in a bar one day and said ‘Hey, we work really well together!’ That’s not how it worked. It worked because they knew each other through being in the same circles.”
With this in mind, the College Democrats of New York invited Justin Krebs, founder of Living Liberally, to stress to attendees the importance of social settings like dining halls in establishing community among like-minded politicos, and to outline ways to re-create similar social communities after graduation. Krebs advises students to have a “culturally identifying side to your politics, so that you’re not just going out and canvassing, you’re going and hanging out with people because they share your progressive views–they’re liberals, too. Whatever you’re doing, you can be doing liberally.”