All four politically-affiliated RSOs will debate for the first time
For the first time, all four major student politically-affiliated organizations — Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), College Democrats, Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA) and College Republicans — will share a debate stage.
The debate will take place on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m., the anniversary of the U.S. presidential election of 2016. As of right now, the debate topics include the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, climate change, political transparency, healthcare, the national debt and the War on Drugs.
Last year, only the College Republicans and YAL participated in a debate, as the College Democrats sent representatives of the NAACP in their place. Karl Stomberg, the director of communications for the College Democrats, welcomes the inclusion of YPDA.
“I think having more voices on stage will be better,” Stomberg said. “There’s now a wider variety of things to talk about and a wider variety of viewpoints. We brought in Young Americans for Liberty and Young Progressives Demanding Action, which I think makes this debate special. They’re newer groups on campus, and their voices should be heard as well.”
YPDA is the latest Registered Student Organization (RSO) to join the on-campus political landscape. It was founded last semester by Megan Hart, who also serves as president of the club. Hart, a senior studying history, communications and political science, hopes the upcoming debate will introduce YPDA to a larger audience.
“A lot of people are confused about who we are and what we stand for,” Hart said. “In this debate, I want people to understand that we are nonprofit, we’re issue based, and we’re value based. We support a variety of bills and house resolutions meant to promote healthcare, free college tuition, and ending for-profit prisons.”
Stomberg said the College Democrats were unhappy because of their absence at last year’s debate.
“Last year, the debate was between Young Americans for Liberty, College Republicans and the NAACP, which did not go very well,” Stomberg said. “We were a little more eager to debate this year, so we reached out to the College Republicans and things went from there.”
Unlike the other politically-affiliated RSOs who focus their energy on partisan politics or policy proposal, YAL are more ideologically driven. Although they tend to ally with the College Republicans, the libertarian philosophy of YAL does not fall clearly on either side of the liberal or conservative ends of the political spectrum.
“I heard this quote from Austin Peterson once, he said that his ideal libertarian world would allow for a gay married couple to protect their recreational marijuana with fully automatic rifles without paying income tax,” Alex Closs, treasurer of YAL, said. “I think that’s a fun vision of the world. It isn’t liberal or conservative, it’s just different ideologically.”
Closs, a sophomore studying civil engineering, believes that an open and inclusive debate is important to maintaining civil discourse on campus.
“At Young Americans for Liberty, we have always strived to uphold the principles of free speech and open, civil dialogue,” Closs said. “At this debate, we just want to spread our overarching message of liberty and personal freedom to a larger audience. Of course, we want to distinguish ourselves from the other political RSOs, but everyone should have a fair shake. This debate should be a lot of fun.”
The process of organizing this debate got off to a rough start. Hart blames this on both miscommunication and a lack of discussion between all four groups.
“At first, the libertarians were talking separately with College Republicans without telling the democrats,” Hart said. “Simultaneously, the democrats told us things that the other two groups didn’t know. There was a point when the College Republicans didn’t think the College Democrats wanted to debate, which was incorrect.”
Hart suggested the creation of a GroupMe to improve coordination between the groups. Since the GroupMe was put into use, the groups reported more cohesive planning. Once they became more organized, the groups quickly decided on the six topics of debate and began work on procuring a time and place to host the event.
Thus far, the groups have not reserved a place for the debate to take place, although they currently have their sights set on Purnell Hall. The Biden Institute, which will hold a talk by Valerie Biden on Nov. 8, may also sponsor the debate.
Because of the inclusion of all four politically-affiliated RSOs, the format of this debate will differ from what was used in previous years. For the first half hour of the debate, one of two representatives from each of the groups will take the stage to address certain topics. After a brief intermission, the other representatives of the groups will take the stage to discuss the remaining issues.
“I like the plurality of this format,” Hart said. “It’s a different way to do things, but this way we can hear multiple voices from each political RSO and we won’t crowd the stage.”
Although all four groups are separated by ideology, Stomberg said they can all find common ground with each other. He believes that now, when politics is more polarized than at any other time in modern history, a civil debate should serve help to bridge political divides.
“Democrats find common ground with the libertarians on the War on Drugs. With College Republicans, we agree that everyone needs to work towards more productive forms of civil discourse, because that’s almost nonexistent these days,” Stomberg said. “I think we’re a little more mature than the folks in Washington. That’s the point of these debates: to have a reasonable discussion and overcoming the partisan divide.”