Schneider: Only for Democrats? That's the Problem.

Civic duty shouldn’t be conflated with student harassment.

by Charles Schneider | 11/7/19 2:15am

Last year, I arrived on campus as an excited freshman. A strong conservative with a wide background in Republican campaigning, I leapt at the opportunity to challenge the hegemonic liberal campus culture and grow the Republican Party here. I became involved with Dartmouth College Republicans and was fortunate to be chosen as the organization’s secretary that fall. It was 2018, and political groups on campus were gearing up for what would be a monumental midterm election cycle. The tactics used by these groups were varied, and I quickly realized that the Dartmouth College Democrats were using a mixture between guerrilla marketing and harassment.

An Oct. 24 column in The Dartmouth by Sydney Allard ’21 criticized the College Democrats’ aggressive tactics during the 2018 election cycle. Understandably, members of any student group seldom appreciate such public and forthright criticism. On Oct. 31, Gigi Gunderson ’21, a former president of the College Democrats, responded with her own column, defending the Democrats’ tactics and attacking the College Republicans’ “seeming lack of action.” Unfortunately, this is the exact reason students on campus became frustrated with the College Democrats’ actions.

Last fall, the College Democrats and the Tom Steyer-funded liberal political action committee NextGen Rising took over the campus, invading every part of life at Dartmouth. Needed to study at the library? They were there. Needed to go grab food? They were there, too. Even walking around campus could cause you to be stopped by the group and asked to “vote Democrat on Nov. 6.” I don’t believe Allard overstated the deleterious effects of these actions. If anything, she was understating them.

Shortly after the College Democrats began harassing students at every turn, many began avoiding places on campus they knew they would be stopped at. Several of my friends who are Democrats asked me if there was anything College Republicans could do to stop the College Democrats from blocking their entrance to ’53 Commons. My answer was simple: Tell them you’re voting Republican. This simple solution often worked well, because once the Democratic advocates realized you were likely to vote against their agenda, they were no longer interested in your right to do so. In fact, many of them were no longer interested in giving you common courtesy — which, sometimes, was not enough. College Republicans chairman Daniel Bring ’21, after mentioning he was a conservative Republican, was asked if he’d considering voting Democrat “just this once.” He declined.

At the time, the College Republicans were very aware of the tactics the College Democrats were using. Understanding students’ privacy on campus and the many complaints made about the College Democrats’ choices, we chose not to implement the same aggressive guerrilla campaigning. At our meetings, we reminded our members that Republicans are a minority on campus and that it is important to vote for that reason. We worked with our state and national chapters to help out in any way we could. 

What Gunderson called a lack of action was not such. Rather, it was our firm belief that ideas, not aggressive electioneering, should be the basis of any electoral success. This was not the mindset of College Democrats going into the 2018 election, and dismissing the College Republicans in self-righteous indignation does not solve this problem — it exacerbates it and further proves Allard’s point.

Having had a year to reflect on the College Democrats’ campaign style for the 2018 election, I do not believe they intended to harm students or the flow of campus. Rather, they wanted to get Democrats elected — just as the College Republicans wanted to get Republicans elected. I agree with Gunderson that attending Dartmouth is a “dream come true for any political junkie,” and I also believe the “more people involved in our democracy, the better.” Similar ends and objectives, however, do not necessitate similar means. 

However many votes they might glean, politically active students should avoid tactics that aggressively inconvenience and annoy students in the midst of stressful academic terms.

Charles Schneider ’22 is the vice chairman of the Dartmouth College Republicans.

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