Matt Ingoglia: Don’t underestimate student initiative

The month of February holds tremendous significance for GW’s aspiring politicos and campaign managers. With the Student Association elections mere weeks away, our campus will soon look less like a university and more like a swing state. Candidates will shout from the roofs of strategically parked cars, palm cards will litter the streets, and caffeine-fueled postering armies will jockey for wall space like moms fighting over the last Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday. This annual spectacle must be seen to be believed, and freshmen – you’ve been warned.

Now, I know most people dislike the pandemonium that accompanies the SA elections, but there is one very heartening aspect of this occasion that often gets lost in the shuffle: the incredible activist spirit that defines the SA election season. It’s truly amazing that candidates can marshal so many people to rise early and spend hours in the cold encouraging passersby to vote, even as classes and exams demand their attention.

What makes this possible, more than any candidate’s charisma or popularity, is the sheer energy that emanates from these armies of supporters. This admirable willingness to put prior commitments aside for something larger reflects our community’s ability to advocate for our beliefs, whatever the short-term cost.

However, it is at this very same point in the year that most of GW’s largest and most influential student organizations eschew activist events, opting instead to put on socially oriented programming like parties, movie screenings and restaurant outings. By choosing these events over more substantive ones, some of our strongest reserves of student energy elect not to tap into the activist reservoir that SA candidates utilize to win. And based on recent events, they do so at their own peril.

Take this year’s College Democrats, for example. With thousands of members and mailing-list recipients, the organization could have mounted a concerted effort to save Martha Coakley’s ill-fated campaign in Massachusetts. Instead, they held a phone bank the day of the election. Worse, the Executive Board position of assistant off-campus activism director has sat empty since September.

The much smaller College Republicans channeled their fall campaign efforts by dispatching members to campaign in Boston for Scott Brown and holding a phone bank at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters. They overcame apathy and tapped into the enthusiasm of their members, with exceptional results.

My point is that as denizens of the nation’s capital with incredible opportunities at our fingertips, all of us are uniquely positioned to interact with our government and advocate for the ideas we hold dear. Organizations like the CDs would do well to stop underestimating the initiative of their members, and should provide more opportunities for them to take an active role in advancing their cause. Last year, its campaign trips and lobby days earned them GW’s Student Organization of the Year award, which should serve as a blueprint for success in this regard.

To be clear, I’m not saying that social events are wastes of an organization’s time; they do help introduce people to the organization and its goals. But these introductions are hardly necessary in the spring semester, when successful groups are tapping their members’ enthusiasm and running circles around orgs that falsely assume their members don’t want to protest, canvass or lobby.

It’s time that GW’s most respected organizations open their eyes and realize their causes aren’t any less pressing now than they were in September. If SA candidates can convince students to hand out flyers on frigid mornings, our largest student groups owe it to themselves (and their causes) to provide year-round activist opportunities for their members. If not, they risk a nasty slide down the slippery slope toward irrelevance, much to their adversaries’ glee.

Don’t believe me? I’m sure Senator Brown would back me up on this one.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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