Political student groups gear up for 2020 election

Aug. 25, 2020, 9:55 a.m.

As the country gears up for the November elections, student groups, such as the Stanford College Republicans (SCR), the Stanford Democrats (Dems), Cardinal For Biden and Stanford Libertarians, have been actively campaigning for the presidential candidate they’ve endorsed.

Jo Jorgensen is the current Libertarian Party presidential nominee, Joe Biden is the current Democratic Party presidential nominee and Donald Trump is the current Republican Party presidential nominee. The 2020 presidential election will take place on Nov. 3. 

To the Dems, “any space that allows students the opportunity to engage with the political process, to deliberate policy, and to express and define their values is good for the Stanford community.”

Dems president Kevin Li ’22, speaking on behalf of the group, called Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign “praiseworthy” and his platform “unambiguously the most progressive of any major-party nominee for president in the history of the United States.”

“We fully believe that Vice President Joe Biden embodies the principles and values of the Democratic Party and the Stanford Democrats,” Li said. “The Biden campaign has released over 30 distinct plans and policies, ranging from responding to COVID-19 to his plan to ‘Lift Every Voice’ with commitments and policy plans on racial justice.”

“Taking leadership in this time also requires taking responsibility for the health and safety of campaign events and operations,” he added, “and Vice President Biden has done an admirable job of holding virtual events and making online appearances while refraining from irresponsibly placing event attendees at risk.” 

However, Biden was not always the most favored Democratic candidate. Stanford’s Cardinal for Biden group wasn’t formed until June, says current president Chloe Stoddard ’21, who used to run the Cardinal for Warren group before Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) dropped out of the race in March. 

“Biden was not a popular candidate on campus during the primaries,” Stoddard said. “We kind of hit the ground running basically in late June. We’ve been doing weekly phone banking meetings and newsletters outreach and almost kind of provide information in support of the Democratic side of the election versus for the campaign goals of Biden itself.”

Stoddard decided to make the transition after seeing Biden’s campaign “evolve … into the most progressive platform of any Democratic candidate in history that’s received the nomination.”

“What really matters to me is making sure that candidates prioritize creating a society that is advocating for all people and not advocating for policies that end up marginalizing communities further, but instead trying to achieve equity for all,” she said.

Stoddard was drawn towards the issue of equity after witnessing the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, where only 46.1% of age 18-29 citizens voted, the lowest percentage compared to the subsequent older age groups. 

“There’s so much energy, usually from college students, behind progressive candidates that when they don’t get the nomination, there’s a lot of drop-off of support, and that’s what we saw in 2016,” Stoddard continued. 

So as “not to repeat the mistake,” Stoddard hopes that all students are registered to vote so they are able to engage with and see the benefits of supporting a nominee.

“Biden has taken on, for example, a lot of policy plans that Bernie and Warren had,” Stoddard continued. “We want to remind people in our age group that this is a common candidate that you can still be excited about because of the impact that they’ll have.”

On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice-presidential running mate, with Harris being the first Black woman and person of Indian descent to be chosen for the position. For many, Harris’s nomination was an astronomical leap of much-needed representation in the political field. However, her step onto the national office platform was also met with public backlash for her former policies and plans to reform the criminal justice system. 

“I think that she is an extremely competent leader that is dedicated to helping the United States recover from the pandemic,” Stoddard said. “In terms of representation in politics, this is obviously a massive win. Representation does matter and I hope that her success inspires generations of progressive BIPOC women to run for public office.” 

“That said, I am hopeful that public pressure has influenced her to no longer support policies or take actions that contribute to mass incarceration,” she added.

Stoddard supports a number of Biden’s more “progressive” policies. One important issue Stoddard thinks should be addressed on the federal level is criminal justice reform, which she says has essentially not been the center of a lot of policy platforms until this past election cycle. Stoddard added that “it’s a big deal” that Biden plans to invest in renewable energy and green jobs, raising the minimum wage to a union and union-wage jobs above the $15 minimum wage, creating a path to citizenship for dreamers and specifically addressing systemic racism, inequality and violence against women.

 “Collectively we work together to try to give volunteer opportunities to the Stanford student body to get involved with the campaign,” Stoddard said. “Had it been in person we would be canvassing, door-knocking, going to public events and whatnot, but we’ve been going pretty heavily on phone banking and will continue also with text banking and also voter information outreach and education.”

Li said that the Biden campaign is “scarcely covered by the news media” in comparison to the Trump campaign. 

“President Trump’s record of (in)action, both on COVID-19 and on racial justice, has been nothing short of embarrassing,” he said. “We are unfortunately unsurprised by his conduct, and we think that it serves as the clearest demonstration of the desperate need for a new administration and systemic reform on these and dozens of other issues that our country faces.”

However, SCR views Biden’s apparent “silence” differently, attributing his “minimize[d] … public appearances” to a “steep decline” in his mental health.

“The fact that the media has been complicit in ensuring that Biden gets as little media exposure in this area shows that the media and left are doing whatever it takes to squeeze Joe Biden into the presidency by whatever means necessary,” said SCR President Stephen Lavid Sills ’22, on behalf of the student group, who made their endorsement earlier this year in January in support of President Trump’s reelection. 

“SCR has been unrelenting in our efforts to get President Donald Trump reelected and to maintain our Senate majority,” he said. “In this weekend alone our organization was able to make over 1,000 calls on behalf of the Trump Victory campaign, and we look forward to continuing our efforts by helping make calls in key toss-up districts across the state of California, such as for conservative Young Kim in CA-39.”

Sills said that SCR will also be participating in a number of competitive Senate races, and will continue tabling and planning speaker events as soon as the University resumes usual activities, which may be a while since the University announced Thursday it would not be bringing undergraduates back to campus. Throughout the past three years of the organization, SCR says their “successful efforts to bring conservative ideas to Stanford’s campus” has turned Stanford into “a marketplace of ideas.”

“Now that this has been accomplished, our principal mission is to bring conservative ideas to as many students as possible and into the mainstream of Stanford ‘s public square,” he added. “Even now, we believe that students are gradually becoming more comfortable discussing conservative ideas with their friends, at least much more so than in the past,” Sills said. 

Instead of red or blue, left or right, students who are part of the Stanford Libertarians choose a different route. 

“Liberty is not a Democratic or Republican thing,” said Jason Spyres ’21, president of the Stanford Libertarians. 

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, libertarianism is “a family of views in political philosophy, where [they] strongly value individual freedom and see this as justifying strong protections for individual freedom.” Spyres believes in the importance of a libertarian party because of its honesty, where even back in its inception in 1971, marriage support for the LGBTQ+ community and the legalization of marijuana due to the inefficacy of Nixon’s War on Drugs existed, long before either the Democratic or Republican party voiced support.

The Libertarian Party highlights an often overlooked notion: to look at politics as a spectrum, rather than a “broken” two-party system with a hard divide.

“We just want to raise awareness and help people understand that even though we’re at Stanford, which is a university that’s renowned for its computer sciences, political science is not a binary art,” Spyres said. “You shouldn’t look at politics as a left or a right, or as a Joe Biden or Donald Trump, because no one person is going to find the perfect candidate.”

Spyres, a 38-year-old senior, draws from personal experience to profess the inequities of the “broken two-party system,” such as the freedom for immigrants to candidly pursue a better life in America, the freedom for anyone to consume cannabis without the fear of going to prison, the freedom to protest for Black Lives Matter. 

Spyres recalls witnessing some of his best friends placed in handcuffs after getting caught smoking marijuana, its legalization a notion generally opposed by Republicans. Similarly, Spyres remembers the “damage” within his family from welfare, a Democratic and capitalistic provision. According to Spyres, welfare “wrecked [their] lives” because his immigrant mother could not continue to improve her financial stability without losing her welfare benefits, and therefore the ability to provide for her family. 

To Spyres, these reasons became the brick and mortar in founding a libertarian group at Stanford. His founding belief is that “voting for someone you don’t believe in is how you truly waste your vote and not move the country towards a better universe for all of us.”

“The idea that people can’t just unite behind that as a bad thing is because the two-party system, the duopoly, has fooled people into believing that you have to vote for either left or right and any other vote is a wasted vote,” Spyres continued. “We’re not even saying you have to vote for [a Libertarian candidate]. We’re just asking you to vote for your conscience.” 

“If Joe Biden or Donald Trump is not your person, there is Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and Joe Jorgensen of the Libertarian Party, and there’s many other candidates and other parties,” he added.

Despite the impossibility of convening on campus for the foreseeable future, Spyres hopes to continue spreading the libertarians’ values by holding online meetings, where anyone is free to join, as well as hosting speakers such as Justin Amash and Vermin Supreme, both previous presidential candidates for the Libertarian Party. 

Contact Alysa Suleiman at 22alysas ‘at’ students.harker.org.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the student group representing the Democratic Party on campus is called Stanford Democrats. A previous version of the article referred to the group as Stanford College Democrats. The Daily regrets this error.

Alysa Suleiman is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.

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