Students for Civic Engagement is a new club that hopes to foster, non-partisan civic participation among the student body, said Erik Lowe, AS vice president of legislative and governmental affairs. He just recently started the club, which just had its second meeting on Jan. 22. Despite its new beginnings the club has attracted 10 members and already garnered 40 members on its Facebook group.
Dan McLafferty, AS board assistant to the vice presidents of legislative and governmental affairs and student life, was present at last week's meeting. He intends to run for either president or vice president of the club when it holds its elections on Feb. 12. He explains that he sees this club as being a place where students can go to become informed and he also sees it using outreach to create engagement and understanding in the greater community.
“You don't have to know anything about politics to join this club,” McLafferty said. “I know before I started working for Erik, I didn't know a whole lot about the bills and such that really affect us.”
McLafferty described the strengths of the club as being its non-partisan nature, which leaves it open to all students, especially those who might find a politically affiliated group intimidating or unappealing. The club also isn't affiliated with any larger organizations, and its agenda will be completely student driven, McLafferty said.
Annie Jansen, president of the Western Democrats, said that she sees the club as a place where party affiliated clubs can go to collaborate with one another. She said that she hopes to see the College Republicans in the future as well as members from the libertarian party.
At the last meeting most of the attendees worked for the AS, were involved with Western Democrats, or had attended Lobby Day over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. Both Lowe and McLafferty expressed hope that the group would grow into something much larger, a group for every student that will raise young peoples' voter turnout.
“I think this club will be a remedy for [low voter turnout],” McLafferty said. “Come the election in ‘08 hopefully this club has a strong base.”
Jansen said that she thinks student apathy is due to students thinking that they can't affect any change. Jansen recounts that Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., attributed her win to the student voters at Western. The margin by which she won was the same number of students at Western who voted.
“It sounds so clichá©, but student voting makes a difference,” Jansen said.
McLafferty said that currently there is a state bill being presented by Reps. Mary Helen Roberts and Deb Wallace which, if passed, would give state money to match university funds put into the Child Development Center. This could greatly help those people who want to attend school but need reliable daycare for their children, McLafferty said.
There is a national bill up for approval which contains one paragraph that stipulates if any university doesn't prohibit all file-sharing on its campus then they will withdraw all financial aid money, McLafferty continued. He said that it is legislation like this that has a direct impact on student lives.
Finding reliable information can often be a problem hindering civic engagement, Jansen said.
“There is a lot of misleading information out there,” Jansen said.
She advised looking for sources where there is constructive criticism of issues and candidates and also checking candidates voting records.
Lowe said that one of his favorite resources is The Roosevelt Institution, http://rooseveltinstitution.org, which is the first student think-tank.
Currently the club's future plans don't extend much further than their upcoming elections and other logistical plans. McLafferty said that he would initially like for everyone to get comfortable with each other so they can express their concerns and ideas for the club. He also said he wants to get the club organized and start some fundraising activities. The club most likely won't be involved in raising awareness of the caucuses or primaries coming soon to our state.
However, students can get involved with the Western Democrats or the College Republicans. The College Republicans weren't available for comment at this time, but their contact information is available on the AS Web site, http://as.wwu.edu/clubs/. Jansen said that the Western Democrats' largest activity for the year is their voter registration drive, and they will also be handing out Washington state caucus information informing students when and where to go to participate. Jansen said after the primaries the club becomes more candidate-focused and that they also attend the Washington State Young Democrats conference every spring.