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Being Politically Engaged at Drew—Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

By Jocelyn Freeman | Staff Writer

9 mins read

With Midterm Elections coming up on the 8th of November, today’s article will be dedicated to what being politically engaged has looked like throughout Drew’s history as a reminder to go vote! 

Most Americans view the liberal arts campus as a radically political environment and a place where young, like-minded people share ideas organically and organize easily. In the recent past, college campuses served as places of activism for young people to explore their political values in a variety of educational ways. 

Although articles about political news outside of the university were published in “The Acorn” in some of its earliest editions, Drew, like many other universities, saw a surge of political involvement on campus in the late 1950s. This involvement encompassed a variety of student-led political organizations on campus, the oldest of which is the Drew Young Republican Club. The group focused on promoting “candidates and platforms of the Republican Party” and encouraging “political education of its members” as stated in the group’s description from the 1969 edition of “The Oak Leaves”. 

But the Young Republican Club was not alone on campus; in November of 1959, the Young Democrats were founded on campus. The Young Democrats were focused on efforts to “further the activities of the Democratic Party” and “analyze and disseminate information concerning political affairs,” as noted in the 1961 edition of “The Oak Leaves”. 

Another political group to note is Drew’s branch of the nationwide, and still active, Americans for Democratic Action, founded on campus around 1958. The group is “a non-partisan organization of students with a liberal interest in political, economic, and social issues”, as noted in the 1961 edition of “The Oak Leaves”. 

All of these organizations co-existed on campus. There is mention of a bulletin board split between the Young Republicans and Democrats displayed in Brothers College in an October 1962 edition of “The Acorn”. This public display space seemed to allow for the clubs to post information, political cartoons and events. Grievances about the board were written about in “The Acorn”, but the clubs coexisted well. Come the election season of 1960, the groups were extremely active. The Young Republicans hosted a trip to see then Vice President Nixon speak in West Orange, a movie night and campus canvassing in conjunction with the Acorn (Nixon was chosen to be the prospective winner by Drew Students). The Young Democrats published a piece in support of President Kennedy in the paper but were less active in ‘60. 

Dozens of students gather to partake in the 1968 Election Night Watch hosted in the University Center.

IMAGE FROM UKNOW.DREW.EDU ELECTION NIGHT WATCH PAGE.

Yet the big ticket event of election season was an event that all political organizations on campus worked together to plan and execute: the Election Night Watch. The Election Night Watch was around since 1948, according to “The Acorn” (Nov. 1, 1976), but the tradition was well documented in “The Oak Leaves” beginning on Tuesday, Nov. 8 of 1960 to observe the Kennedy-Nixon Race. Local politicians, Drew alumni and the student body were invited to attend. The event was typically held from around 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. The tradition of Election Watch Night carried on for many more years following the Kennedy-Nixon Election. The event brought major politically focused groups on campus together for an exciting and educational night in partnership with the Political Science Department. 

As war raged on in Vietnam, students expressed their political beliefs in ways beyond the polling place. This was an especially useful tactic as college students under 21 did not have the right to vote until the voting age was lowered in 1971. Drew saw anti-war protests in 1970 as students took to the steps of Mead Hall and took up planning events such as letter writing campaigns to Nixon during his administration. 

While the conflict in Vietnam fueled the political fire for some young Americans, it is dangerous to generalize. Historians with expertise in the era have suggested that, for many young people, continuous activism with little reaction from administration and government was extremely disheartening and draining. For many, this also led to apathetic voting habits for all demographics across the United States. Voter turnout dropped by nearly half in the 1970s. A once politically ravenous group of graduates were unable to keep up. Yet campuses, like Drew, remained a place where activism had a home for the newly admitted and politically invigorated youth. 

Today several clubs dealing with political beliefs exist on Drew’s campus. Some of these clubs still include the Young Republicans and Drew Democrats but have also expanded to include the Drew Democratic Socialists. Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, the Drew Roosevelt Network and Drew Voters League also provide spaces for students to engage with more specific political issues. These organizations host events year-round, such as a recent congressional candidate debate. The Election Night Watch is now hosted by the Political Science Department during Presidential Election years. 

Going forward, I hope that Drew can remain a place of political involvement where young people can be educated on how to be good citizens of democracy. This goal can be achieved through hosting events, offering political science classes and providing a safe environment for community organizing. 

Young voters have been viewed as apathetic and lazy throughout recent history. Yet, during the 2020 Presidential Election, Tufts College reported that “52%-55% of voting-eligible young adults, ages 18-29, cast a ballot.” These numbers seem large to some, but it is important to remember that voter turnout is typically higher during presidential elections. With midterms around the corner remember that casting a ballot in elections both large and small is vital to keeping our democracy alive. Over these past few years, Gen-Z has been through a great amount of trauma and heartbreak, and voter apathy is to be expected but not accepted. Following a summer of political scares, anger and grief following Supreme Court decisions, it should be noted that voting is a way to shape our future as a country. Do not let your posts, protests and activism be performative and past tense. These smaller scale elections mean that one vote has more power. So make a voting plan to vote on Nov. 8 if you haven’t voted early. Show up! If you are not registered to vote, take the time to utilize https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote for more information about how to register and vote in future elections.

FEATURED IMAGE: Students host a letter-writing event in the U.C. to keep students engaged with their representative.

IMAGE FROM 1970 ISSUE OF THE ACORN.

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