Where Are the College Democrats?

"Thank you, M.I.T. (Applause.) I am — I am hugely honored to be here. It's always been a dream of mine to visit the most prestigious school in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

—President Barack Obama

MIT was recently very excited to welcome President Obama to campus. Students eagerly shared stories about the lucky few who caught a glimpse of the president or attended his speech. The Tech ran a photograph of a beaming student holding a sign reading, "Institute Hears The Forty-fourth President." Students, faculty, and staff watched Obama's inspiring speech in viewing locations around campus, and gloated to our Harvard friends that even the President knows that MIT is the best school in Cambridge.

It's clear that many members of the MIT community are pretty enthusiastic about the current Democratic administration. When I was trying to get in touch with the MIT College Democrats recently, though, I found something surprising — they don't appear to exist.

The College Democrats’ web page, http://web.mit.edu/mit-cds/www/who.html, appears to have been last updated in 2004. People, that is a really long time ago. Back in 2004, I was in high school, Twitter did not exist yet, and Bush was just getting re-elected for the second time.

I also wrote to Catherine Havasi, who was a leader of MIT for Obama, to ask her how I could get in touch with the MIT College Democrats. She told me that there is no MIT College Democrats.

There seem to be a lot of useful things that MIT College Democrats could be doing, both for themselves and for the MIT community. When I look at the Harvard College Democrats' web page, they have photographs of their group with really awesome people, like David Axelrod and Howard Dean. If you re-start the MIT College Democrats, glory will be yours and you too may be able to meet really awesome people, get your picture taken with them, and get them to come to campus so that we can all hear them talk.

Also, there are many issues that the MIT College Democrats can look into and help with. Today, we have the Cambridge City Council and school committee election. In this election, there are twenty-one candidates, and voters are supposed to rank their nine top choices for the nine slots on the City Council. As a computer science grad student, I do not have time to figure out which nine of the twenty-one candidates for city council I want to vote for.

Looking into this a little bit (because hey, guess what, it's always tempting to procrastinate) it seems like a lot of the candidates for city council are pretty interesting people.

Marjorie Decker grew up in a public housing project in Cambridge, was the first in her family to graduate from high school, and went on to graduate with honors from UMass Amherst, earn her masters at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and work for Teach For America. She's been on the city council for ten years, and has been active on issues like public education, affordable housing, women's and veteran’s health, and climate change.

Kenneth Reeves, who was Cambridge's mayor from 1992–1995 and from 2006–2007, was the first openly gay black man to serve as mayor of any city in the U.S. (Our current mayor, E. Denise Simmons, is the first openly lesbian black mayor in the U,S.) Mr. Reeves is also so eloquent that I read an interview with him over the phone to my family, in its entirety (http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=6434).

And of course, many of us have heard about the candidacy of Leland Cheung, a grad student in our very own Sloan School of Business.

It would be lovely to have an active MIT College Democrats group read up about these candidates and the other seventeen people who are running for Cambridge City Council, and tell us who, in their opinion, are the best candidates. Since local elections tend to have rather low turnout, a surprisingly few number of votes can sway the election's outcome.

Kudos to Cantabrigians for turning out in overwhelming numbers to vote in last year's presidential election. Last year, voter turnout was 72 percent in Cambridge. Unsurprisingly, nearly ninety percent of the votes were for Barack Obama. I'm envious of my friends who got to vote in sexy locations like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the folks whose votes might actually have been the difference between electing Obama and electing McCain.

In contrast, the turnout for local elections tends to be much lower. In a local election like the one today, your vote really might determine which candidates will serve on our city council and school committee next year. It would be great to have an active MIT College Democrats group encouraging us to get out and vote.

There are many other issues that the MIT College Democrats might be able to have an enormous impact on. For example, at the end of August, about 100 housekeepers were fired from the Hyatt Regency Cambridge right next to Tang Hall, and from two other Boston-area Hyatts. Many Democratic politicians, including Governor Patrick and Representative Capuano, have called for a boycott of Hyatt. However, there doesn't seem to have been any student or administration response at all even though MIT has a hotel services partnership agreement with the Hyatt and frequently houses conference attendees there (including the participants in the iGEM conference which occurred last weekend). An MIT College Democrats group might also be interested in participating constructively in the discussion of how MIT can cut its budget without damaging the MIT community.

But most importantly, we can't let Harvard have the best College Democrats group in Cambridge.

Rachel Sealfon is a graduate student in computer science. She urges people who are interested in restarting an MIT College Democrats group to write to her at mitdems@gmail.com.