Michael Ceraso PZ ’13 is not your typical college student. For one, he is a couple years older than most of his fellow students. He has also devoted the last five years to political campaigns and the encouragement of political change, working with environmental organizations and on President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Recently, Ceraso’s experience with political campaigning has led him to take initiative in Pitzer College’s political scene.
Ceraso and fellow student Evan Slovak PZ ’14 are starting a Pitzer-based chapter of the Roosevelt Institute’s (RI) Campus Networks program, a nationwide effort to promote progressive political activism among students. According to the organization’s website, the RI is a nationwide nonprofit organization “devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.” The Campus Network was launched in 2008 and now has over 10,000 members at 86 chapters across the country.
“The idea is… to try to identify systemic problems and ultimately create solutions for them, but the majority of [the Roosevelt Institute’s] success comes from the Campus Networks, which is what we’re starting at Pitzer,” Slovak said.
According to Ceraso, being a “progressive” think tank entails “pushing your country forward and pushing your community forward in a way that opposes the norms.” He said this mission takes many forms, including reforming banks, environmental policy, and LGBTQ rights.
Slovak added that the RI emphasizes forward-thinking solutions.
“Students all over gripe about the state of politics and the mediocre solutions. That’s where RI comes in,” Slovak wrote in an email to TSL. “For years it seemed that the only avenue for college students to be involved in politics was to work for campaigns or intern at a politician’s office. The Roosevelt Institute helps us move beyond the traditional forms of participation.”
Slovak said the Pitzer chapter of the RI Campus Network is still in the organizing phase. Slovak and Ceraso will be attending a conference in San Francisco to speak with members of other chapters, including those at USC, UCI, UCLA, and Wheaton College in Illinois.
According to Ceraso, the group will most likely be arranged around certain projects, with students breaking into sub-committees to work on developing policy for a specific issue or subject.
He added that RI will balance and complement other political groups on the 5Cs, which often do not place as strong an emphasis on the legislative process.
“We will be reaching out to clubs and we hope that clubs will embrace us, because with us working together, we will be able to bring about change,” Ceraso said. “It provides more clout if it’s something that we need to bring toward the administration.”
“People’s power on campus is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing,” he added.
Slovak agreed. “It would be really cool if we were able to partner with whatever political movements are out there and whatever systemic problems that Pitzer students are recognizing and actually have the policy to accompany it,” he said.
To further illustrate this point, Slovak used the example of the Pitzer in Ontario Program, a self-described justice-oriented urban studies program that brings students to Ontario to learn about regional impacts of globalization.
Ceraso said he sought a way to initiate political change at Pitzer when he left his full-time involvement in the political world for study at Pitzer. He said he felt that RI would be the best way to stay active in political issues while he was at Pitzer, which he said has a student body that fits with the mission of RI.
“The students at Pitzer, compared to other schools, have an activist, rebellion thing going on, and that’s a huge thing that you want to tap in to,” Ceraso said. “You want to be a rebel, you want to mobilize communities? Let’s do it. Let’s bring an organization to the school that has been defined on that activist, free-spirited, green mentality. And then there are a lot of students who know that, one day, they will be part of the legislative process.”
While students involved in the RI chapter at Pitzer will have autonomy over the group’s operation, the national network allows for cross-campus cooperation.
“We’re still finding out what they have to offer,” Slovak said of RI’s national resources.
Slovak added that they hope to start a training program for new members of Pitzer’s RI chapter to learn about writing policy, using the media to promote policy, and implementing policy.
“Sometimes the government can save the day, when it’s done right,” he said.