Following an election year filled with partisan fervor, students formed a Democratic Party club this semester at Kendall Campus.
College Democrats-Kendall Campus club members can be regularly spotted in the building 2000 breezeway at recruitment tablings holding red and blue posters with the Democratic donkey logo and portraits of three Democratic presidents. Twelve students are currently part of the organization.
After noticing there was a Republican student organization on campus but not a Democratic one, the College Democrats president Steven Portal, a 19-year-old political science major at Kendall Campus, figured it was time to start a club to represent students with democratic values.
“I’m hoping [the College Democrats] will have a great impact, and I believe it’s very opportune that they formed in a non-presidential year,” said Michael Matthiesen, the club’s advisor and a philosophy professor at the College. “Since the election we have seen the rise of political activism across the world, reinforcing that democracy is not only on election years…It’s up to the College Democrats to make [sure] democratic values are still alive and well at MDC.”
Portal and Daniel Carrera—currently the club’s vice president—thought about initiating the club near the end of the fall semester. They approached their friend William Martin-Lopez, now the club’s secretary, and began forming the executive board. The three freshmen have known each other since middle school.
The process of starting the club consisted of filling out an application on SharkNet, the online platform for student organizations at the College, and then being verified by the Student Life Department, which requires at least the executive board and an advisor for approval.
The club’s first official appearance on campus was on Jan. 11 during Club Rush. Students, Portal said, were excited about the presence of a Democratic club on campus. Those not in favor of President Donald J. Trump’s beliefs and policies were glad to see a group of Democratic students with similar political standpoints.
Since then, the club has conducted tablings for more students to join. These tablings have coincided with those of the College Republicans on a few occasions. A student in the College Democrats table insulted the members of the College Republicans one time, according to Marlon Montero, a freshman majoring in political science and the president of the College Republicans.
“We’ve been attacked already once by one of their members, and that was quite unfair,” Montero said. “I have nothing against them…if we can work together, let’s do it, but ‘Why are you coming to label us?’ Just because we support Trump doesn’t mean we support half of the things he stands for.”
Portal clarified saying the student involved in the incident is not a registered member of the College Democrats. He is hopeful that such incidents won’t repeat.
“I would never do something like that,” Portal said. “There was that one incident, but I don’t think it will happen again.”
A Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, Portal was a Republican before becoming a devout Democrat about four years ago. He says he stopped believing in what the Republican Party stood for and, after doing some research, he aligned more with Democratic views. After weighing the pros and cons of both parties on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and also discovering that climate change is a real issue backed up by scientific evidence, he concluded the Democratic side made more sense.
This past June, Portal was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma and was under chemotherapy treatment for five months. He enrolled at Kendall Campus as a freshman this spring semester.
He is recovering well and visits his doctor monthly for regular checkups. The health issue influenced his political views, particularly in healthcare.
During his time at Baptist Hospital of Miami, Portal learned stories of patients who had to pay hefty medical bills, including a child suffering from cancer whose bill added up to more than $1 million. Although Portal had medical insurance, he said his medical expenses were still expensive.
“I believe healthcare is a human right, and everyone should deserve that,” Portal said. “You shouldn’t be denied coverage based on whether you could pay for it or not…Everything in politics affects us in our day-to-day lives. It affects college students in how much we are going to pay in tuition. It affects healthcare, environmental policy…When you disregard politics, you’re essentially letting other people choose for you…Our main goal is to get students involved in the political process.”
The College Democrats’ general position on immigration is continuing to have a College that welcomes undocumented students, as well as legal protection for undocumented immigrants with no criminal background. The liberal organization fully supports Planned Parenthood and believes it should not be defunded. They also want the government to be involved in climate change and to regulate guns on campus.
The club’s first meeting took place on Feb. 8. During the hour-long gathering, students introduced themselves and talked about what they wanted to do as a club, such as partaking in debates and protests and creating awareness of the democratic ideals around campus. No official schedule for meetings has been set up, but they are expected to be held on a bi-weekly basis.
“Every single [bit] does count,” said Julianna Sanchez, the club’s treasurer and a 19-year-old political science major at Kendall Campus. “Being politically active can actually be a weekly thing: ‘Oh let’s go to town hall and make a night out of it.’ Also, holding rallies that we can publicize on social media…writing letters, calling, interning and helping out in campaigns to make sure whatever you feel needs to be said is advocated for justly. [At] College Democrats, we want to really engage in conversation and help people get stimulated with politics.”
Social media pages on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for the club are actively being updated with information about current political issues and local and club events students can participate in.
To join the College Democrats, students can sign up at the club’s recruitment table or look for College Democrats-Kendall Campus on SharkNet.mdc.edu and send a digital request.
“At MDC we are committed to helping students find their voice, to becoming informed about the issues, and to becoming life-long voters,” said Joshua Young, the director of the Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy at the College. “Whenever students mobilize and create political clubs, regardless of the ideology, this represents a level of engagement that we need to encourage. There aren’t enough student political clubs at MDC and we would like to see more—be they Democratic, Republican, Green Party or whatever political issue students are willing to take on.”