Student activists prep for a busy season

Talking politics
By ANDREW FOX  |  July 5, 2006

With a busy political season increasingly bursting into view, college students in Rhode Island have an opportunity to play a role in races for governor, US Senate, and the General Assembly, among others. Katie Amaral, a 21-year-old University of Rhode Island senior from Newport, the recently elected president of the College Democrats of Rhode Island, will help to organize this kind of student activism.

Amaral’s election as leader of the College Democrats’ intercollegiate board (Salve Regina, Brown, URI, Rhode Island College and Providence College) brings a community-oriented vision to the table. She takes the reins from Seth Magaziner, who has a particular political pedigree as the son of Ira Magaziner, a former adviser to Bill Clinton.

As a high school student at Rogers High School in Newport, Amaral cut her teeth through her church concession board and through the high school’s chapter of the junior ROTC. While such experiences may be untypical for a college Democrat, she says they strengthened her ability to be a progressive moderate. In the choice between “smarter bombs or smarter kids,” she says, “we as a nation have responded by wanting smarter bombs. We have misallocated and mis-prioritized our military.”

On both sides of the political spectrum, college students help to provide the legs of voter outreach. “Campaigns could not exist without the labor and energy provided by these individuals,” says Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University. He notes, however, that the actual voting power of college students is negligible, because of both lack of voter turnout and out-of-state ballot casting. Because of this, campaigns are rarely geared toward young voters.

Through summer and autumn, student activists like Amaral will canvass door-to-door for various candidates, and bring party leaders to campus events. Spirited primaries in several races, such as the Republican fight between Lincoln Chafee and Steve Laffey for the US Senate, has made for infighting among some students. “Any time you get a bunch of politically active young people together, you’ll get people going enough to make trouble,” says Ethan Wingfield, a native of Asheville, North Carolina, who leads the College Republicans in Rhode Island. His election this year was marked by tense polarities among student activists.

For college Republicans, organizing is less about entering into Rhode Island politics and more about rallying around issues particular to the right. In this respect, the Laffey-Chafee primary is a point of major contention as it divides what Brown senior Wingfield calls “Rhode Island Republican values,” as represented by Chafee, from the moral conservatism backed by Laffey and many Southern Republicans.

For her part, Amaral doesn’t see herself in any sort of direct competition with the college Republicans. A member of what she calls a “confident and united” Democratic party, her view tends toward pluralism.

  Topics: This Just In , U.S. Government, U.S. Congressional News, Elections and Voting,  More more >
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