Metro, News

University students organize for Beto O’Rourke

Brown for Beto holds event to discuss potential O'Rourke presidential candidacy

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, February 25, 2019

On Saturday, students and community members gathered for the “Brown for Beto” event as part of a national grassroots movement to encourage the presidential candidacy of former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke.

Despite the already packed field of candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, a group on campus is intent on one person joining the fray.

Brown for Beto held an event at 85 Waterman this past Saturday that drew a crowd of roughly 30 students and community members to discuss the potential candidacy of former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke, who narrowly lost a Senate bid against Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, has said he would decide at the end of this month whether he will fight for the nomination.

The event was supported by two national organizations, Draft Beto and Draft Beto 2020, that have focused their resources on encouraging the former representative to join the race.

“What the (Democratic) Party needs now more than ever is a sense of hope and energy,” said attendee Samuel Waxman ’19.5. Waxman said that while policy matters, the ability to generate energy and excitement in voters is a valuable political tool.

“He was able to draw people in who had not been engaged in the political system before,” said Emma Caviness ’19, a co-host for the event, referencing the increase in registered voters in Texas prior to the 2018 general election. O’Rourke’s ability to fire up voters is “very unique,” Caviness added.

Another attendee, Joshua Neronha ’22, believes that O’Rourke has the rare opportunity to flip a traditionally red state like Texas. “If we’re going to get into the nitty gritty on electoral prospects, putting Texas on the map, even in a semi-tossup category … provides a really interesting jumping-off point for a campaign,” he said.

The event, though targeted toward those in the University community, attracted others from the area. Geoffrey LaForce, a graduate student at Northeastern University and a Rhode Island native, attended the event in a “Draft Beto” shirt. LaForce said O’Rourke has qualities reminiscent of former President Barack Obama. “There’s this charisma, there’s this relatability, and I think that’s what people respond to,” he said. 

Both Draft Beto movements were instrumental in supplying organizational and logistical resources for the Brown for Beto event, said Ben Martel ’19, who co-hosted the event alongside Caviness. The event hosts set the tone of the event with songs like Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” David Bowie’s “Changes” and a Willie Nelson song played at a rally for O’Rourke titled “Vote ‘Em Out.” Caviness and Martel then explained the goals for both of the Draft Beto movements and why they support O’Rourke.

While Draft Beto has a broader approach, Draft Beto 2020 is focused on establishing support in “New Hampshire and Iowa” and other “early states,” Martel said. Collectively, the two groups intend to build a national grassroots movement for O’Rourke by creating email lists, building a strong social media presence, raising $1 million to support O’ Rourke and planning phone banking efforts in New Hampshire if O’Rourke announces his run.

“It turned out to be a little bit harder than expected because people don’t really want to give money to someone who’s not even running yet,” Martel added. But these efforts seek to convince O’Rourke to run and show him that there is a large group of excited young supporters ready to help his campaign, Martel and Caviness said. 

Brown for Beto’s organizing and support for O’Rourke currently separates them from several other politically-oriented student groups. The Brown College Democrats, Brown Republicans and the Brown Political Action Committee have not begun to mobilize for 2020. “Our organizing for 2020 has been pretty much nonexistent,” said Zoë Mermelstein ’21, speaker and events coordinator for the Brown College Democrats. The College Democrats do plan on participating in get-out-the-vote and voter education initiatives. Though the College Democrats are not allowed to endorse any candidates prior to the election, “we try to make all … opportunities to support Democratic candidates available,” Mermelstein said.

The Brown Republicans face similar circumstances. “We haven’t really discussed (the 2020 election) at all,” said Nicholas Guarino ’19, co-president of the Brown Republicans. The group doesn’t plan on diving into the 2020 elections until next semester, Guarino said.   

The Brown Progressive Action Committee is also staying out of the 2020 race for the time being. “We’re really focused on this current legislative session. We really focus on taking action here and now,” said Jenna Israel ’21, co-chair of BPAC. In addition, the group has yet to develop an official endorsement policy. “We’re excited to see groups forming to support progressive candidates, but we’re really hoping they use their platforms to highlight local progressive action.”