For the duration of my undergraduate career at UW-Madison, one conspicuous student organization has stood on the sidelines during crucial social justice battles and even occasionally joined the other team in limiting the score of righteous, progressive endeavors. What's worse, this group has concerned itself more with the résumés of its leadership than its espoused agenda. Despite the instinctual sympathy that most students have for its nationally recognized name, its do-nothing approach has precluded the formation of a large active membership; the group invariably withers into conservatism, futility and phoniness as each year progresses.
I'm not talking of the College Republicans, an organization so enveloped in bigotry and stupidity that even mainstream conservatives abstain from association. The group offers little to the campus other than hilarity. For those of us who enjoy a good laugh, we are heavily indebted to the campus crazies who wear the official conservative label.
The group of which I speak, the College Democrats, acts in a way almost completely at odds with its stated ideals. While claiming to be a progressive organization, one would never know it from its recent behavior.
Last November, a group of progressive activists and county supervisors attempted to pass an amendment to the budget to cut the sheriff's request for six new deputies. Sheriff Mahoney, is a notorious xenophobe who has voluntarily reported the names of hundreds of undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities, leading to many deportations and long-term prison holds, causing immeasurable fear in the immigrant community. Why should taxpayers continue funding the department responsible for such human misery? When a representative of Student Progressive Dane, the campus group leading the efforts in opposition to Mahoney's policies, attempted to garner the support of the College Democrats for the amendment, he was unequivocally rebuffed. That's quite a statement on the group's willingness to make common cause with marginalized people.
Later, campus activists attempted to solicit the group's support in the Vote No effort, the campaign to defeat the reactionary, undemocratic and anti-grassroots revised student government Constitution. Almost every major activist and student of color organization banded together to defeat the new document in referendum. Not only did the CDs reject this progressive outreach, they ended up actively endorsing the new Constitution. In what was probably the most important campus political battle of the last academic year, they sided with the campus establishment—including the College Republicans, ASM leadership and centrist media outlets.
Regarding electoral endorsements, the CDs robotically support the most right-wing of the electable candidates. In no case was this more insidiously apparent than the group's endorsement of Bridget Maniaci in last spring's alder race. Though Maniaci's opponent, Brenda Konkel, is not a registered Democrat, she is an unbridled champion of all the right causes. This is precisely why the Dane County Democrats issued a nonendorsement for the race. Though Maniaci allowed herself to be used by powerful local interests in the most repugnant way, the CDs gave her plenty of logistical support in an unsavory win.
The above should demonstrate why the CDs have degenerated into a résumé-padding social club, a group that is almost constitutionally incapable of taking a courageous stand on behalf of anything. It's no wonder the group is so incapable of attracting social justice activists, people of color or students who just want to do some type of meaningful political work.
Nonetheless, there is no reason why atrophy must continue. There is no reason why the CDs cannot transform themselves into an activist-based group, one that takes a leading role in campaigns for social and economic justice. I find it funny that the Dane County Democrats lend much more support to issue-based advocacy than their student counterparts. Regardless, this year's new leadership has a clear choice to make as to what the group's new role is going to be, and let's hope—both for the sake of the CDs and the progressive movement in general—that it involves a decisive break with its past behavior.
Kyle Szarzynski is a senior majoring in history and philosophy. Please send responses to email@example.com.