It was November 3, 2004, and while much of the movement to unseat Bush was licking its wounds, Jared Malsin, Marissa Levendis and four other friends and fellow activists from Yale were already plotting to re-enter the fray. Throughout the fall, the six students had worked to galvanize their campus into action, helping to send 250 students to canvass and register votes in swing states–and they were exhausted. But Levendis, a veteran campus organizer, felt that she had witnessed something extraordinary. “It was a huge effort for us, and when we lost we were devastated,” says Levendis. “But we got tons of students skipping classes, kids you never thought would get involved, and we mobilized them. We knew we had to keep the movement going.”
The goal was to get young people back on the ground for the 2006 midterms. But to sustain the grassroots energy, the students, labor and antiwar activists knew they had to do something more than replace the Anybody But Bush movement with an Anybody But the Republicans movement. Within days, SNAP–Students for a New American Politics, which claims to be the nation’s only entirely student-run political action committee–was born.
Two years later SNAP has emerged as one of the more innovative and influential progressive organizations on American campuses. Beyond the assistance it is providing in the November elections, SNAP is playing an important role in shaping the future of the progressive movement. With its grassroots approach to electoral politics, SNAP is not only bridging the often-stark ideological divide between radical activists and pragmatic College Democrats on campus; it is providing a model for how to bring genuine political power to students.
SNAP’s first act was to develop a set of principles that includes support for the right of everyone “to organize to ensure the recognition of their work,” “open and accountable government,” universal access to “quality, affordable health care” and “honest engagement and dialogue with the world about common values.” Over the next several months, SNAP founders pored over profiles and records of candidates to find those whose positions closely matched the principles. The group also hosted scores of fundraisers with supporters including Geraldine Ferraro and Barney Frank, and reached out to UNITE HERE and local labor chapters as well. Within months, SNAP had raised $50,000.
Ultimately, the students selected fifteen candidates, including Senate hopefuls Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Congressional candidates including Patricia Madrid of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut. SNAP’s choices were principled yet prudent: It deliberately chose not to endorse highly touted centrist campaigns, yet it also refused to spend money on quixotic, unwinnable progressive ones. And instead of simply pouring the money it raised directly into candidates’ war chests, SNAP funded twenty students–selected from varied socioeconomic backgrounds–to work full-time on campaigns during the summer. This provided crucial aid in the ’06 races while cultivating young progressive leaders for long-term engagement. Unlike that of most PACs, SNAP’s strategy insures that even if a candidate loses, the progressive movement gains.