5C student groups gear up for 2020 Democratic primary

Female college students sit on couches in a brick coffeehouse.
Katie Niver SC ’22, Ale Butcher SC ’22, Sarah Nunez SC ’22 and Julia Brock SC ’22 watch the Democratic National Debate at The Motley Coffeehouse on Oct. 15. (Domenico Ottolia • The Student Life)

As the 2020 presidential campaign intensifies, 5C students are doing their part to make a difference. 

Passionate student activists from three political organizations across the five colleges — Claremont for Elizabeth Warren, Claremont for Bernie Sanders and Democrats of the Claremont Colleges — are working hard to marshall student support as the 2020 primary heats up. 

The Claremont Colleges Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.


Claremont for Elizabeth Warren

Anna Liss-Roy SC ’20, founder of Claremont for Elizabeth Warren, said the 2016 election spurred her to action.

“I’m embarrassed to say I was shocked that an overtly racist and predatory candidate could win, but it was that transition from anger to action that motivated me to declare a politics major, to educate myself on political issues and, ultimately, to create Claremont for Warren,” she said.

Liss-Roy and Talha Jilani PZ ’20 are co-presidents of the group, which they established this September to support the Massachusetts senator’s presidential run. It gained 60 members in the first two weeks, according to Liss-Roy, and its Facebook page had 99 likes as of Thursday. 

Liss-Roy said the rapid support for Claremont for Warren “has been incredibly encouraging but ultimately unsurprising, knowing how closely Warren’s policy goals align with the values of many students here.”

Warren is the most popular candidate among 5C students by a wide margin, according to a TSL poll of 170 students in late August and early September. She earned 43 percent of the vote, compared to second-place Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 15 percent.

Claremont for Elizabeth Warren aims to cultivate a space for dialogue about a possible Warren presidency, organizes community events — such as canvassing, phone banks, fundraising, tabling and voter registration — and works to educate and engage the Claremont community in political dialogue. 

“As a former teacher, Warren represents a return to policy and rhetoric grounded in facts and research,” Liss-Roy said. “In this era of charismatic appeal, Warren is a double-edged sword: She has energy and charisma capable of inspiring millions with substantive policies to back up her bold vision. Most importantly, she is the best candidate in the race, a fact that is reflected by her front-runner status in national polls.”

Liss-Roy’s political experience expands far beyond the Claremont Colleges. She worked for Warren’s Senate re-election campaign in summer 2018, interned with the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and canvassed for local candidates in the San Bernardino area. 

Despite her experiences, she’s faced logistical challenges like figuring out a leadership structure that works for all five colleges and going through five different processes to reserve tables for events. 

To be more inclusive of other identities and perspectives, the group has chosen “policy specialists” to represent and educate on specific Warren policies, Liss-Roy said.

Liss-Roy believes this organizational structure will “celebrate the diverse reasons people have for supporting Warren,” “encourage bringing our specific passions, experiences and identities into the campaign” and urge “honest, inclusive and compassionate political dialogue.” 

Claremont Colleges for Bernie Sanders

Danny Hernandez PO ’22 had his “political awakening” at a 2016 Sanders rally. Now, he feels a personal responsibility to help Sanders win the 2020 election, which “could potentially determine the fate of our planet,” he said.

Claremont Colleges for Bernie Sanders, a local chapter of the national College Students for Bernie organization, works to advance Sanders’ candidacy and register and motivate students to vote, according to Hernandez, who is one of the group’s leaders.

The group mostly spends its time recruiting members, phone banking, organizing voter registration drives, hosting debate watch parties and canvassing in Claremont, he said.

“When he gets elected, hopefully, I can definitely see us taking more of an organizer role,” Hernandez said, including lobbying local representatives and senators to support Sanders’ policies, holding sit-ins or writing letters to Congress.

The group has 145 members on its mailing list, Hernandez said, and its Facebook group had 61 members as of Thursday. 

Hernandez especially likes Sanders’ policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and canceling student debt.

Hernandez also sees Sanders as the strongest Democratic challenger to President Donald Trump because Sanders has two campaign cycles of exposure and a large donor base of more than one million people — the first candidate to hit that milestone, according to Politico — among other factors. 

Democrats of the Claremont Colleges

With a broader focus, Democrats of the Claremont Colleges is working to further the 2020 campaigns of Democratic presidential and congressional candidates across the country, as well as promote political engagement among students at the 5Cs. 

“My vision for the organization is being a one-stop shop for everything liberal on campus,” President Nevada Lee SC ’22 said. 

“People are normally very excited about issues, but to move that excitement into action is normally very difficult.” – Nevada Lee SC ’22

DOCC, which has about 325 students on its mailing list, according to Lee, sends weekly newsletters about political organizations and events on campus. For the 2019-20 academic year, the group’s main focus will be phone banking for Democratic races in swing states and offering educational workshops on political issues and policies.

“We don’t want to push people away because they might be more to the left or more moderate,” Lee said. “By being available for candidate groups to advocate for their candidate and by opening up our organization to help students make that informed decision, we are better serving our purpose.”

That said, the group might endorse a candidate in the future.

“I know that the [Democratic] party itself is a big-tent party, so we’re just trying to be aware that there are a plethora of views within the Democrats,” she said.

Lee, who is studying politics and whose mother serves as a member of the House of Representatives for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, said the main challenge of leading a political group at the Claremont Colleges is mobilizing students to act. 

“People are normally very excited about issues, but to move that excitement into action is normally very difficult,” she said.

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