Led by an executive board of members consisting of President Will Winters, Vice President Nick Peterson, Program and Activities Director Kalyn Carpenter and Communications Director Hannah Young, the Maryville College Democrats (MC Dems) are moving forward with the initiative to make politics more accessible for a greater array of people and to give back to the community in a way representative of the Democratic party’s ideology.
“There’s a misconception that you have to be a big political buff to join,” said Carpenter of the impression non-club members have of the organization.
But no expert knowledge of politics is necessary to become a part of the organization.
What the club is looking for are people who have opinions about the government that they would like to express, people who would like to take action and people who would like to help in the facilitation of a collaborative, thriving environment of political education and awareness.
This is why MC Dems will be hosting a series of events throughout the school year, some in partnership with other organizations on and off campus. The Dems Days of Service, for example, strives to expand partnership with communities outside Maryville College and consists of club members volunteering with such institutions as Habitat for Humanity or a local homeless shelter. For Valentine’s day the MC Dems partnered with the Student Veterans Association, headed by President Gail LaVoie, in hosting a Valentines for Veterans Dance. The dance was a fundraiser for a veteran charity and featured a 1940s USO theme with free food and a swing dance competition.
“I was just excited someone wanted to support us,” said LaVoie on the MC Dems’s outreach. “We need that support right now. It’s important to bridge the gap between students and student veterans.”
As for future partnerships, the MC Dems have expressed interest in working with the Hannah Smiles foundation, Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, Environmental Action Team and MC Republicans, among others. They will also be hosting a Health Care Day, where healthcare officials discuss healthcare on local, state, and federal levels.
The MC Dems would also like to bring in guest speakers Mary Mancini (American political activist, former candidate and current Chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party) and Keith Ellison (U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district since 2007).
“We’re seeing such a divisiveness in our country,” said MC Dems Communications Director Hannah Young. “We want more partnering with other groups—more student involvement with organizations. It’s appropriate to begin meeting with other groups.”
Program and Activities Director Kalyn Carpenter agreed.
“We need more political action from members; we’ve lost momentum after the recent elections and don’t want people to doubt themselves,” Carpenter said. “You can make a difference consistently. The National Democratic Party has dissociated itself from the average person. Democrats aren’t out there consistently working for it, getting young people involved, going back to the basics and being active in communities instead of sitting on some gilded throne.”
“Interested students can come to us. And we can give them a means to do things,” Young said in conclusion.
The MC Dems have won the college’s award for most active group on campus two years in a row, but it was not always this way.
MC Dems President Will Winters recalled signing up for their mailing list his freshman year, and not meeting once.
“This was in 2014, and the organization has since developed a lot,” Winters said. “The campus used to be very quiet, and no one really cared about the issues. There was more dissension in groups that popped up on campus. It’s different now. Last semester, we had two groups within the MC Dems, the Bernie group and the Hillary group, and that was okay. No one showed up to meetings at the beginning. Now we get a rotation of 10 to 20 different people each time.”
Events hosted last year by the organization included guest talks by representatives from both the Hillary and Bernie campaigns, a debate watch hosted in partnership with the MC Republicans and an election watch party which drew in over 100 participants.
The MC Dems executive board notes an all-around growth in numbers, discussion and political consciousness.
President Will Winters stresses that students can get involved on any level.
“MC Dems is the single-most important student organization on campus – but obviously I’m biased there. What’s important is making voices heard, showing what government should look like. I feel every group will say they’re the most important, but political consciousness goes hand in hand with learning. It’s important for a college group to reach out–and not just as a political organization. Action breeds action,” Winters said.