Young Progressives make an impact

Joseph Bender

Political forces from all over the nation converged on Georgia during the campaign for the Senate runoff elections in January, but most reports have overlooked one powerhouse: Rio’s Young Progressives club.

Members of the club joined hundreds of others in a phone bank this winter, calling Georgia voters and encouraging them to vote for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidates in the Jan. 5 election. Both Ossoff and Warnock won narrow victories in the traditionally Republican state.

Club founder and president Naomi Piper-Pell said that they think Rio’s participation made a difference in the election, which put the Democrats in control of the US Senate. 

“It’s hard to measure but I think it did and a lot of our members think it did,” they said. Even if the calls only secured a few votes, “those 10, 15, 20 votes can make all the difference in a precinct or a county.”

“We made thousands and thousands of calls,” they added.

The Georgia canvassing was part of a wider collaboration with the 2020 Coalition Sacramento, a network of local progressive groups dedicated to building Democratic power in legislatures. 

“We were working with them on the general election in Michigan,” said Piper-Pell. “Through them we got involved in the Georgia campaigns.”

Junior Nate Vanderkar, a member of the club, participated in the campaign calls and said he enjoyed connecting with voters.

“My most memorable campaign calls are the ones where I am able to help people put together a plan to vote and actively engage them in the election process,” he said. 

With the 2020 elections finished, the club is focusing on other issues, including lobbying against fracking and for criminal justice reform. Elections are always on the horizon, however, and the club plans to participate.

“There are off-season midterms in some states so we’re gearing up to make calls in Virginia and states like that,” said Piper-Pell.

“I hope to see our club participate in more campaigns to help elect more Democrats to state, local, and federal government,” said Vanderkar. 

While the club’s main goal is to support progressive candidates and causes, it also tries to help students connect with each other and make them more engaged in the political process.

“My favorite part of the club is meeting kids with the same political ideology as me and talking to them about shared interests and experiences,” Vanderkar said.

“Our biggest issue is just exposing young people to politics,” said Piper-Pell. “It’s really important for people to have just even an interest in politics. It molds them to be better citizens.”

Students interested in participating can find more information on the club’s Instagram page, @rioyoungprogress.