Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Profile of the Penn Democrats

Last year I posted a profile of the Garnet Donkeys, Swarthmore College’s College Democrats group. This time around let’s take a look at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Dems. They are the largest College Democrats organization in the state and in 2006 were named the state College Democrat chapter of the year.

There are 2100 students signed up for the Penn Democrats email list. Given that there are over 20,000 students at Penn this means around 10% of the student body are considered members.

The group has many claims to fame. One is their volunteer work on campaigns. In 2004 they organized a rally for John Kerry. Most notable is their work on Patrick Murphy’s 8th district congressional campaign. They knocked on over 15,000 doors for the current freshman congressman. They also worked for Bob Casey, Jr., now in the US Senate. A number of Penn Dems took positions on campaigns. Adrienne Benson worked on Patrick Murphy’s campaign and also works for EMILY’s List, a pac for Democratic women candidates. Others, among them Lauren Burdette and Nathan Hake, were interns for Patrick Murphy for Congress.

This year the group has endorsed Michael Nutter for Philadelphia mayor and a number of Penn Dems are interning with his campaign. Others are interning for city councilmen campaigns. Jay Fiddleman is interning for Bill Green and Wilson Tong is interning for Andy Toy. The group’s ability to mobilize their talents for campaigns, either in volunteer or paid positions, makes their support very desirable.

Another of their strengths is their efforts to increase voting among Democrats on campus. In 2004 they had a focused get out the vote campaign, which, according to their prospectus, increased voting over 250%. One reason for this is that they also lobbied for more polling places on campus and were successful. In 2005 they worked to staff the polling places and elected students to run for local offices such as Judge of Elections. There are also four Penn Dems on the local ward committee. Through collaboration with other UPenn student groups, they also helped triple voter turnout on the University of Pennsylvania campus in the 2006 midterm elections (compared to voter turnout in 2002).

Having a large number of members gives them the ability to attract events and speakers. In 2006 DFA held a Grassroots Training Academy at Penn. Also in that year the Penn Dems provided volunteer staff to the American Democracy Institute Eastern Regional Summit. In October, 2006, they hosted a political rally with Nancy Pelosi, Allyson Schwartz, and Lois Murphy. Later that month, they hosted another rally with Governor Rendell and Bob Casey. Both were on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Just to be good neighbors they sponsor community service projects in the area.

The Penn Dems receive no funding from the University of Pennsylvania and is dependent on donations for operating expenses. Campaign volunteers usually provide their own transportation to and from canvassing efforts.

My thanks to Mukul Sharma, Penn Dems Communications Director, for answering questions and providing additional information via email.


Jacobs, Alex, and Vince Levy, “Apathy or activism: The evolution of protest culture at Penn,” 34st Magazine 2/01/07

Penn Democrats [pdf prospectus]

Penn Dems website []

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