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Turning the Tide: Challenging the Right on College Campuses

The November 2004 elections have once again demonstrated the success Conservatives have had in converting their ideology into collective consciousness. This is evident when we look at their success with key constituencies such as college campuses, churches, etc. The question that the progressives in America face today is: How, with fewer resources, can we create a progressive public opinion-which ensures our vision and values in school campuses, churches, and synagogues?

This requires a detailed analysis of one of the constituencies that the Right Wing has so successfully captured – college campuses. Conservatives have understood the value of investing in students which has resulted in their expanded presence on college campuses nationwide. For example, the Young Republican Federation currently has over 800 clubs in 46 states and continues to grow. The College Republican National Committee (CRNC), which was at the forefront of efforts to bring young college students to the Republican Party during the Nov. 2004 elections, includes 120,000 college students on 1,148 campuses throughout the country. The College Democrats of America have members on 903 campuses, 20% fewer. Several other networks, Young Americans for Freedom; Young America’s Foundation; The Leadership Institute; The Collegiate Network; The Intercollegiate Studies Institute; Young Republican National Freedom; Students for Academic Freedom and many others, are also actively building support for the conservative agenda.

There is an urgent need for Progressives to get into the game, work with earnest but poorly-networked students and start pushing back the conservative political machine. This requires:

1. Close examination of the current state of play and status of activism on U.S. campuses which will contribute to a better understanding of the effectiveness of both conservative and progressive student movements;

2. Studing the role progressive alliances and student groups are playing on the campuses, and how their efforts might be reinvigorated and strengthened.

To fill this need, the Oakland Institute, in addition to conducting a comprehensive review of literature on the subject, is working with groups such as Speak Out, a national organization that promotes progressive voices on the campuses, and developing a list of key progressive national campus organizations/networks and regional and statewide student groups. From this list, we are strategically selecting key areas, organizations, experts and individuals (activists and academics) from which it will be crucial to gather input.

We are bringing these groups and individuals into our discourse and working with them to craft a vision for the work that lies ahead. The Oakland Institute has taken on the task of shifting the past dynamic by involving these groups in multiple levels of our work – not just as providers of raw data but as active change agents and towards the production of a report, Turning the Tide: Challenging the Right on College Campuses, which will help fill the existing gap. We believe that this report will be the first step in bringing these diverse progressive groups/networks together to learn from their experiences, build strategic alliances, and create a coordinated strategy for progressive activism on college campuses.