Students

What’s Next for College Students Who Backed Bernie

July 11, 2016

Courtesy Alex Forgue
Alex Forgue, a senior at Northern Illinois U. and a founder of College Students for Bernie: "To see Clinton win is disappointing when you’re rooting for Sanders. At the same time, if you look over the entire primary season, from where Sanders started to where he ended, the amount he went, from 1 percent of the vote to just about half, is tremendous."
Tuesday is expected to bring a political development that many college students had hoped would not happen: Sen. Bernie Sanders’s announcement that he is endorsing Hillary Clinton and halting his own efforts to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

Mr. Sanders dominated among young voters in the Democratic primaries and caucuses — according to one analysis, by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, he received more votes from people under 30 than did Mrs. Clinton and Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, combined.

Among the groups that rallied young people around Mr. Sanders was College Students for Bernie, with a network of about 260 campus chapters dedicated to helping his campaign. The Chronicle last week interviewed one of its founders, Alex Forgue, a senior at Northern Illinois University, to find out where its members go from here. Following is an edited and condensed transcript of that interview.

Q. How much impact do you think your group has had on the Democratic primaries and the overall trajectory of this campaign?

A. Our group has had a vast impact on the election because we were able to establish a national organization to get students organized on campuses. We were able to get a lot more students involved in the campaign by reaching out through emails and by providing students with resources to advertise on their campus. We got a lot of students to phone bank, and we also got a lot of students to vote.

Q. Have the primary results given you hope for bringing about change within the political process, or have they had the opposite effect?

A. To see Clinton win is disappointing when you’re rooting for Sanders. At the same time, if you look over the entire primary season, from where Sanders started to where he ended, the amount he went, from 1 percent of the vote to just about half, is tremendous. A lot of young people got active and excited about an election for the first time in a long time.

Q. Are your campus chapters still fairly active, or have they been closing up shop or going dormant after the Democratic primaries were held in their states?

A. Since it is the summertime, things have become a little more dormant. What we are doing right now, as a group, is visiting what we want to be next. We have been reaching out to other student groups, one of them being the Young Democratic Socialists. They are planning a conference on August 5 through August 7. It is called "From Sanders to the Grassroots," and College Students for Bernie is co-sponsoring that conference, to talk about how we continue to build a new student movement and continue to see students engaged in politics.

We take part in the Brand New Congress initiative — a group that sponsors politicians for office who are just like Sanders and endorse Sanders’s platform — to get students (who are old enough) to run for office and to get students to work in their local elections to elect these officials.

We know that just having Sanders as a president isn’t going to change it; we have to have a Congress that is going to change it as well.

Q. Have members of College Students for Bernie been switching over to become Hillary Clinton supporters? What are you telling those who consider making such a decision?

A. We as a group have decided to remain neutral on whether or not to endorse Hillary Clinton. We don’t want to be the ones responsible for Donald Trump being elected, but we have members on our executive board who will vote for Hillary to stop Donald Trump and we have members on our executive board who will vote third party because they don’t want to give in to a Democratic Party platform they don’t agree with. It is a split among our members and our executive board on how to handle that situation.

Q. If Hillary Clinton ends up being the Democratic nominee, do you expect that your group’s members will be showing up to vote for her in November, or will they be choosing third-party or write-in candidates or staying home? Would a Bernie Sanders endorsement of her make much difference?

A. A lot of young people do not favor Hillary because they see her as an establishment politician. A lot of people were drawn to Sanders in the first place because he is honest and he has a consistent record, and a lot of young people want that. A lot of young people will vote third party over a Democrat who does not have a consistent record or does not agree with the platform that students want.

Q. What does College Students for Bernie have planned for the Democratic National Convention, in Philadelphia?

A. We are trying to organize a meet-up of college students involved in College Students for Bernie so that we have a space to talk and talk about what is next. Another thing we are doing is endorsing the People’s Convention, a convention in the same area.

We are going to work with that convention to get activists, and we are going to build a people’s platform, because the DNC platform does not include things like going against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and banning fracking. We are going to work on establishing a platform by the people for the people, and then trying to get the Democratic National Committee to look at that.

Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.

Corrections (7/12/2016, 8:09 a.m.): This article originally misidentified the college Mr. Forgue attends. It is Northern Illinois University, not Northeastern Illinois University. The article also misnamed an effort supported by College Students for Bernie. It is a Brand New Congress, not Bern the Congress. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.