This past weekend, the St. Lawrence University Democrats attended the College Democrats of America Conference, which was held in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Winter Summit in Washington D.C. The event hosted around 250 college Democrats from across the country in addition to 800 DNC members. Not only did the SLU Democrats listen to an address, they were able to meet none other than President Obama.
Among the SLU Democrats lucky enough to attend were President of SLU Democrats Emery Younger ’17, as well as Anna Brouillette ’17 and Emma Hennessey ’17. The SLU Democrats were able to pull together the trip only a week before the event. Younger explained, “Thanks to the generosity of both the Government Department and the Dean of Student life, we were able to fully fund the trip and make it so that there were minimal costs to individual students.”
The members of the DNC were discussing what the Democratic Party’s strategy is going to be in 2016 and how they plan to recover from the 2014 losses and make a comeback in the House, Senate, and Presidency. Currently, the issues most pressing for the DNC are “how to combat harmful voter ID laws, which have really been inflicted throughout the South and the Democrats have really made that a cornerstone of their agenda,” explained Younger. Another important topic of discussion was equal pay for equal work.
Friday morning was the highlight of the event. The SLU Democrats woke up early and were waiting in line by 7am for the DNC General Session, where President Obama would be speaking. Because of how early they arrived, the SLU Democrats were lucky enough to be among the 30 college Democrats who actually got to be in the room where President Obama would be speaking. Hennessey explained, “The rest of the college Democrats had to go into an overflow room and watch the president on a screen, which still would have been cool, but not nearly as exciting.” Added Brouillette, “We didn’t drive 9 hours to see it on a screen.”
The SLU Democrats ended up being in the third row for the president’s speech. Younger enjoyed the president’s speech very much. He said, “He gave a really great speech about how Democrats are really able to distinguish themselves from Republicans because while Republicans speak a lot about helping the middle class, the policies of the Democratic Party really help the middle class, while the policies of the Republican Party tend to hurt the middle class.”
After the speech, the president decided to walk around and shake hands. Younger said, “Initially, all of us were like there’s no way we’re going to shake the president’s hand.” They ended up being able to push forward through the crowd and meet the president after all. Younger said, “I think for everyone it was a surreal experience to meet someone who you’ve seen most of your life pretty much on a daily basis whether it be on television or in newspapers or on the internet, and to touch him was a bizarre experience, but so cool. I think all of us were in minor shock for I don’t know how many hours.” Added Brouillette, “It was life-changing, I’ll be honest.”
The DNC General Session also featured speeches from the mayor of Baltimore, the mayor of Washington D.C., and the Chairwoman of the DNC. The SLU Democrats all agreed that it was very exciting to see where the DNC makes policies, agendas, and decisions that will affect what the priorities of the party are going to be.
In addition to President Obama’s address, the SLU Democrats attended other receptions with both the DNC and College Democrats of America. On Thursday evening, they attended a reception hosted by the group organizing the Democratic National Convention, which will be taking place in Philadelphia in 2016. This included addresses by former governor of Pennsylvania and former Chairman of the DNC Ed Randell and the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter. The SLU Democrats got to meet the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Hennessey noted, “We were definitely the youngest people there,” but they liked it nonetheless.
After the reception, they went to another reception for the College Democrats of America (CDA). There were college Democrats from all across American in attendance. Younger liked being able to see what strategies other college Democrats were using in their on-campus engagement. Said Younger, “What was most insightful for me was talking to Democrats who came from states that aren’t traditionally blue. While they’re advocating for Democratic ideas, the party, and the platform, they never really have the gratification of electing a Democratic candidate.”
The group also received a tour of the Capitol from Mariah Dignan ’16, who is currently studying abroad at the Washington Center and interning with Senator Gillibrand of New York. Dignan took them into both chambers of Congress, the Speaker of the House’s private balcony, the Supreme Court, and they got to ride the Senate subway.
Unfortunately, D.C. was hit with a snowstorm on Saturday and the events were cut short. All in all, however, they students agreed the trip was worth it and a trip to never forget. Brouillette added, “It really speaks to the wonderful resources we have available here at SLU that we were able to pull it together so last minute and it gave us all a great opportunity.”