Political student groups thrive at the University of Minnesota, but Students Organizing For America will be a new addition that is already drawing as much criticism as praise from groups across the political spectrum.
SOFA will be the University chapter of the national group under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee that President Barack Obama formed shortly after he assumed office as grassroots support for his political agenda. The group will be comprised of interested members of Students for Barack Obama and will partner with related groups.
“We created history in November, and we’re continuing … to do something that has never been done before,” said Mike Griffin regional field director of Organizing for America and a political science senior.
Griffin ran for Minnesota Student Association President in 2007, but became embroiled in a controversy over his eligibility because he lacked the required amount of signatures to be included on the ballot after some illegible ones were discarded.
He left the University to work for Obama shortly after, and returned this year to continue his studies.
Looking back, Griffin said, “I was given the opportunity to leave school to go and change the world by electing Barack Obama. Their decision to remove me from the ballot was a blessing in disguise.”
Conservative groups like the College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty see the group’s actions as less than altruistic.
“They’re just kind of Obama’s little minions, I guess,” said President of Young Americans for Liberty Chris Huxtable.
YAL represents libertarian and conservative students who believe in less government and more personal freedom. Along with the College Republicans, they hosted Friday’s event with Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at Northrop Auditorium .
YAL aims to connect with similar student groups like the College Republicans in order to raise membership and awareness.
“We’re out there to let people know that there is something different, that we don’t have to settle for the same old crap that we have been dealing with for forever,” Huxtable said.
But Griffin contends that SOFA is doing what is right and that they have strong popular support.
“SOFA collected over a million signatures of people who support the public option [health insurance plan] … that’s something that, I mean, I doubt the tea baggers had,” Griffin said.
SOFA plans to mobilize thousands of volunteers to pass Obama’s healthcare legislation that includes a public option.
“That is the main separation between the DFL group and …. SOFA; it’s obviously more in line with Obama and his policies than the Democratic groups that are out there,” UDFL president Andy Pederson said .
UDFL is working with SOFA on a variety of issues and is also planning separate events throughout the semester, including a debate among DFL gubernatorial candidates.
He also defends SOFA’s methods.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any more propagandist than the alternative, which is essentially, ‘use the media,’ ” Pederson said.
Conservative groups like the College Republicans have their own methods of reaching people, which included a presence at Obama’s health care rally in Minneapolis on Sept. 12, as well as traditional networking.
“We try to have, at the U, kind of a cabal meeting of all the conservative, free market, non-liberal groups … to try and coordinate different events that we have going because … there are a lot of things that cross over that we can help each other with,” said Abdul Magba-Kamara, chairman of Minnesota’s College Republicans.
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