Kenyon students voiced concerns about the Democratic party’s future to representatives of the party itself this past Saturday at a public forum hosted by Kenyon Democrats. Kevin Harbaugh, a potential Democratic congressional candidate for Ohio District 18, which includes Knox County, attended the forum.
Throughout April, the Ohio Democratic Party is hosting community meetings during which individuals can discuss their views on the party. Party representatives attend these meetings and report their findings back to state party headquarters. Kenyon became the site of one of these discussions on April 8, when the Kenyon Democrats hosted a forum in the Horn Gallery called “Donuts and Democracy” for students to air their grievances with the Democratic party.
Jessie Gorovitz ’19, incoming president of Kenyon Democrats and a student representative of the Ohio Democratic Party, took notes at the event that she shared with representatives at the Ohio Democratic headquarters. “My goal in having that event was to try to get people from across the Democrat, liberal and progressive political spectrum to come participate and give feedback to the progressive party about what they want a progressive party to look like,” Gorovitz said.
Harbaugh attended the event to hear students’ concerns. Harbaugh introduced himself as “a former Navy pilot who also taught at Yale, so don’t put me in a box.”
“I’m probably not going to be able to articulate a specific policy prescription for every single challenge we’re facing,” Harbaugh said. “In terms of understanding the issues, I’m going to have to depend on you guys — your ability to challenge my thinking and help me understand what it’s like from the trenches.”
When Harbaugh asked attendees what mattered to them, the discussion turned to climate change.
Schuyler Stupica ’19 said she wanted to see the party take a stronger stance on the environment. “At the Democratic National Convention, I would have loved to see a lot more environmental speakers,” Stupica said. “It’s not really a championed issue, but it’s a very pressing issue and its timeline is very short.”
Harbaugh said he supports clean energy and progressive environmental policy but worries about job loss. “It’s a huge economic reality in this district [that] the only good job some people have had for years is in the fracking industry,” Harbaugh said.
Gorovitz said local representatives should incentivize renewable energy companies to create jobs in rural communities.
Students, Gambier community members and Harbaugh also discussed education, the opioid epidemic, rebranding the Democratic party and political correctness. Many students expressed frustration with the party’s close-mindedness toward religious people and conservatives.
“I hate the way that both parties right now are placing blame on each other,” Bridget Murdoch ’17 said. “The problem is being so liberal that you’re mean about it.”
To Gorovitz, the most productive moment of the conversation came when Michaela Jenkins ’19 discussed her experiences with the Democratic Party. Jenkins spoke about her working-class family in South Carolina, which has voted blue for decades, yet feels continually ignored by the party. “When I hear ‘the Democratic party needs to appeal to the working class,’” Jenkins said, “I hear members of the party from that more coastal perspective appeal to the white working class in those words.”
In January, the Ohio Democratic Party sent out a survey gauging Democrats’ feelings on what issues the party should prioritize. In her capacity as a student volunteer for the party, Gorovitz reviewed the approximately 5,000 responses to this survey. She found that climate change and job creation emerged as major themes in the survey data, just as they did during the discussion.
“The Donuts and Democracy event reflected aggregate data from all of Ohio,” Gorovitz said.