New bipartisan political student group aims for change
By Lauren Abbate | The Maine Campus - 11/03/2014
A new student organization focused on mobilizing members of all political parties to bring awareness and education to the political issues affecting young Americans has been granted preliminary recognition by UMaine Student Government.
“The polarized clubs are more of the same,” said James Dumas, a third-year political science student and president of UMaine Common Sense Action. “We want to promote political awareness and advocacy to all [UMaine] students, regardless of the political party they belong to.”
The group Common Sense Action is a national student organization that has had a chapter operating at UMaine since the beginning of the semester. The group has three focal topics making up its platform: implementing generational fairness in regards to fiscal politics, creating more opportunities for America’s youth, and repairing the polarized political sphere.
“We’re encouraging people to keep political labels, but think about them in a way that is constructive to solving issues, specifically those that affect our generation,” Dumas said.
In the 2012 Election, only 45 percent of the 46 millions Americans ages 18 to 29 years old turned out to vote. This age group, dubbed the Millennial Generation, is the demographic that many in the political realm deem disengaged and uninvolved. If this assumption is being based purely on statistics, then these critics might be right.
“[Critics] say that this generation is disengaged. They’re apathetic; they don’t care; they’re uninformed,” said Rob Glover, a professor of political science at UMaine.
However, Common Sense Action believes that the Millennial Generation is not engaging because the political discourse in the U.S. is being focused around political topics that don’t rank high among young voters. “There is no dialogue being directed towards students about what political issues affect our generation,” Dumas said.
Common Sense Action wants to redirect the political conversation to discuss Millennial issues such as student debt, education reform, infrastructure investment, and Social Security reform.
Aside from redirecting the political conversation Common Sense Action has the opportunity to advance the new modes of civic engagement that are being shaped by the Millennial Generation. These new forms of civic engagement being exercised by Millennials are a big reason critics may be incorrectly assuming that the generation as a whole is uninvolved with the political process.
“If we look at only the traditional methods of participation, that people use we might miss really important ways that Millennials are participating,” Glover said.
While previous generations have abided by the traditional routes of civic participation such as voting and contacting local representatives, the Millennial Generation is more geared to engage politically through collaboration.
Political clubs on campus have generally been operated based on party lines, leaving minimal room for collecting different viewpoints. But because of the politically diverse promise that Common Sense Action is proposing to students, they believe their discourse can be more constructive than College Democrats or College Republicans.
“It’s a different rendition of engagement,” Glover said. “[This type of engagement] is effective for certain types of things like solving a community issue or getting a locality to address something quickly and doing it in a way that uses minimal resources.”
However, Glover points out that abiding by some traditional modes of participation, such as voting, is necessary to implementing actually political change.
Dumas, aware of the need to increase voter turnout among Millennials, has made voter registration the primary effort of UMaine Common Sense Action. Though instead of utilizing traditional voter registration tables, the group is staying true to Millennial form by registering people to vote via TurboVote, an online process which makes registering to vote as easy as signing up for Facebook, according to Dumas.
Common Sense Action is not the first bipartisan group to be organized at UMaine. Until last year the group No Labels sought to bring students together around issues and leave their political party’s agendas at the door.
While No Labels is no longer an organization on campus, it shares the frustration with political polarization that Common Sense Action is looking to circumvent.
“[No Labels] emerged out of dissatisfaction with the party system and it viewed the party system as something that led people to very devise political positions,” Glover said.
With the current election season almost under wraps, Common Sense Action will begin to focus its efforts on generating advocacy for Millennial involvement as well as organizing a formal debate between College Democrats and College Republicans to be held later this year.
Common Sense Action meets in the Oakes Room on Wednesdays at 7:45 p.m., though this will be subject to change once they become fully recognized at the start of next semester.