Inside Both Parties
By: Henry Hertz, Contributor
WHEN I CAME to the University of Richmond, I wanted to do everything possible to expand my political horizon. Coming from San Francisco, where Republicans are an endangered species, and being an anarchist isn’t completely uncommon, I wanted to meet, speak and discuss with those who truly disagreed with me, rather than just rant- ing over the same topics we agreed on over and over again. Identifying as a Bernie Sanders liberal, I knew I wouldn’t find debate without looking around. So I went where I knew I would find disagreement: I joined both political party clubs.
Almost immediately I began to find differences in the two clubs, beyond just their political beliefs. When walking through Spider Fair and signing up at their booths, these differences became all too clear. When visiting the Democratic Party club, I found a simple cardboard sign on a table, and not much else. There was significant lack of enthusiasm, and it felt like they were doing very little to gain other people’s interests. When visiting the Republican Party stall however, I found a completely different experience. An American flag had been draped across the table, and those manning it were handing out stickers, bottle openers, and even pocket constitutions.
When speaking with them, I could see the immense patriotism and enthusiasm they felt, as they gunned to get every member they could. And when I signed up and got my pocket constitution, I felt like a patriot. When I had been reading articles and statistics depicting the vast array of problems the United States, it felt good to reveal in the positive and patriotic messages the Republican club was using. This is an immensely powerful tool they are using to great effect. Many Americans understand and agree that the U.S. isn’t perfect, but they also don’t want to feel bad for being American. The Democrats have the numbers, the Republicans have the passion.
When I went to the first Democratic meeting, it felt incredibly formal, as we all sat in rows and watched a presentation. The first Republican meeting instead was more of a social gathering of friends, with food being served and people chatting about every topic imaginable across the room. When going to volunteer at phone banking at the Democratic club, the lack of passion revealed itself to be a dangerous problem. Just a few days from a critical midterm election, and only three people, including myself, showed up. For a club easily numbering over 80 people, this was a pathetic display. While the Democratic Party club has the numbers, they lack passion among their members. The Republican Party club has passion in spades.
I witnessed the opinions both sides have, with each club having its own spectrum of opinions and internal debates. In the Democratic club, a huge debate broke out after a member of the group chat was kicked out for calling for a discussion about the Kavanaugh confirmation. This led to a discussion about what speech should be blocked due to being triggering, and whether a person deserves to be kicked out of a discussion for voicing their opinion. In the end, Kavanaugh was never effectively brought up again, and discussion on the topic had been shut down. In the Republican club, another discussion happened after the 2018 Midterms, over what the best strategy for the Republican Party going forward should be. One member argued for an increased focus on the white voter, saying that People of Color will never vote Republican, while others pushed for aiming at a more diverse electorate.
In both these clubs, I see a willingness and eagerness to express opinions and debate with people they disagree with, something this country sorely needs. When joining these two clubs, I was surprised to find the Republican and Democratic Party clubs were very different from what I had expected. Having met few conservatives, I had expected their club to be far less open to discussion, especially from some- one who represented the polar-opposite of their views. Yet the club I found was not only open to discussion but actively supported it, devoting half of their monthly meetings to it. I was amazed by their acceptance of differing opinions, allowing for a diverse club with a wide spectrum of opinions. When I joined the Democratic club, I hoped to find a group of people full of passion similar to what I found back in California. Sadly, despite this being a midterm year, this wasn’t the case. Despite still identifying strongly on the liberal side, I found myself identifying with the Republican club, especially their use of patriotism and their fight against the restriction of free speech to avoid offending others. These are powerful tools, some- thing the Democratic club would be smart to learn from.
Despite all of this, I still have a lot of faith in the Democratic club. They have a massive potential due to their overwhelming numbers, and if they can instill the same passion the Republican club uses, they would be a compelling force across campus. Both clubs have the power to bring effective, thought provoking, and powerful discussion to the entire campus, and I look forward to being part of it.