Bipartisan relationship in a polarized world


Photo curtesy of Calvin College Republicans

Pictured: Calvin College Republicans with U.S. Senate candidate John James.

Despite existing in a polarized climate, two student organizations — the Calvin College Republicans and the Calvin College Democrats — maintain a Christ-like bipartisan relationship, through joint events and constructive dialogue.

Calvin College Republicans

The Calvin College Republicans has been around for a while.

“It was started by Bill Huizenga [representative of Michigan’s second district] when he was at Calvin; at least that’s the legend behind it,” Senior and Republicans of Calvin interim President Grace Lemkuil said.

The organization is a chapter of both the Michigan federation for college Republicans as well as the national federation.

Recently, they went to the Kent GOP to listen to U.S. Senate candidate John James speak and during election cycles they often host debate watching parties.

“In presidential election years, our biggest events have always been debate watching parties,” Lemkuil said, and this year, “there will be a couple debates between John James and Debbie Stabenow, who are running for the Michigan Senate seat, so if we have the opportunity to live stream those we’d love to do some more debate watch parties this year.”

Their biggest event takes a group of students down to Washington D.C., to the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC.

At CPAC, the group hears big name conservative speakers, as well as meeting with other college students from similar organizations.

Calvin College Democrats

The Calvin College Democrats, on the other hand, is a relatively new organization, having started in the past two years. Senior Jessie Brink, president and founder of the club, said it was largely inspired by the 2016 presidential election.

He said that a couple weeks later he was sitting next to a friend during a political science class.

“I just turned him, and I was like, ‘Why do we have a Republican club at Calvin and no Democratic club?’” Brink said.

One thing the organization hopes to accomplish is to be a way for Calvin students to make electoral changes.

“Calvin students have a lot of progressive energy, a lot of desire to change the world,” Brink said. “We’re focused on channeling that energy into making electoral change.”

Similar to their Republican counterpart, the club, a chartered chapter of the Michigan Federation of College Democrats, is event-based, with about one event a month. They recently had Winnie Brinks, a state representative running for state Senate, as a speaker.

The group is also involved electorally, doing some campaigning for candidates. Last year they went canvassing for Rachel Hood, a candidate for state representative.

A healthy bipartisan relationship

Photo curtesy of Calvin College Democrats. Pictured: Calvin College Democrats listening to State Representative Winnie Brinks.

Through joint events and effective dialogue, the clubs are setting an example on campus for constructive bipartisan relationships.

“Yes, campaigning is a major thing that we do, and supporting candidates is a major thing to do,” Brink said, “but I’d say just as big a thing is modeling how to have civil political conversations.”

“We see ourselves as an organization as Christians first, and American second, and Democrat third,” Brinks said.

Both clubs have intentionally worked to maintain a good relationship with one another.

“We’re very focused on maintaining a good relationship with the other clubs here on campus,” Lemkuil said, “especially the Calvin Dems.”

This past year, the two clubs hosted a debate series together. Lemkuil explained that typically, a student will represent each side, and will prepare their arguments ahead of time. The students are each paired with a professor who will draw which side they’re debating for from a hat.

These debates have been widely successful, with many Calvin students attending. According to Brink, about a hundred people came to the three debates in the series.

The debates served as an opportunity for open dialogue between the opponents.

“It’s a good practice of trying to be able to resonate with other viewpoints,” Lemkuil said.

The two clubs plan on doing more events this year as well, including a voter registration drive this October, along with the Calvin College Political Dialogue & Action Club (PDAC).

The drive will offer an easy way for Calvin students to register to vote, without having to worry about mailing the the voter registration form to the Secretary of State office. Students interested in registering to vote can stop by at Johnny’s, where the clubs will be running the drive throughout the first week of October.

They will also be hosting a joint debate watch party this November, as well as another debate series this spring.

Through their relationship, both clubs hope to work through the polarized climate of American politics.

“We see in America this huge polarizing political divide right now,” Brink said. “We’re really focused on bridging that divide.”

In order to fix problems, Lemkuil pointed out, problems should be approached from every angle, and their relationship is facilitating a way for students to do so.

“If anything’s ever going to get done, specifically at a national level, it has to be a bipartisan effort,” she said. “No matter who has the majority, if it’s just one party pushing their agenda it’s not really going to work.”

The clubs approach their bipartisan relationships from a Christian perspective.

“Especially as a Christian college, we have to be really focused on reconciliation,” Lemkuil pointed out, saying, “the kind of fighting and hate speak and everything that goes on between the parties really helps no one, ever… it’s very important to us that we continue to show Christ’s love to people who might have different political views then we do.”

A relationship like the one the two clubs have is not found on many other campuses. Brink commented on other College Democrat organizations he’s met, saying most either have no relationship or even a bad relationship with their Republican counterpart.

“I honestly think that’s something really unique about Calvin,” he said.

Both clubs have enjoyed creating their relationship, and working with each other.

“We really enjoy working alongside their club,” Lemkuil said. “It’s a great opportunity to hear things that we might not necessarily hear if we only surround ourselves with like-minded people.”

In the end, both organizations are passionate about politics. They come together through those passions and have a lot of fun while they’re at it: last year they had a bipartisan pizza party, and members are friends across “club lines.”

“I’m actually a groomsman in the wedding of last year’s president of the Republicans of Calvin,” Brink said.

The Calvin College Republicans and the Calvin College Democrats are perhaps more similar than they are different. As Lemkuil said, “We’re all people, we’re all Christians, we’re all interested in politics.”