At the University of Minnesota, several political student groups operate outside of the College Republicans and DLF at the U of M.
Grace Kelley is head of Students for a Democratic Society, a student group that is no longer registered with the University and stages protests to promote campaigns. Sean Niemic, president of Students for a Conservative Voice, produces The Minnesota Republic, a conservative monthly newspaper.
The groups accomplish their goals by using the media. Whether it is attracting attention through public protest like SDS or creating it through their own publication like SCV, the media enable these groups to distribute ideology to the student body.
SDS, a liberal student group, is made up of about eight members and works on highly visible — and sometimes controversial — campaigns to change policy around campus. Their current “Save Our School” campaign, aimed at stopping tuition hikes and increasing University transparency, was jumpstarted when members broke into Mariucci Arena and unfurled banners at convocation in September.
In contrast, SCV uses its staff of about 12 members to produce The Minnesota Republic, a right-wing publication designed to combat what Niemic calls the highly prevalent “liberal media.”
The group distributes 2,000 copies of the newspaper per month to residence halls and most University buildings on the Minneapolis campus.
Kelley graduated from the University in 2009, but she still maintains a very active role in a number of student groups.
She is a member of the Women’s Student Activist Collective, the University Pro-Choice Coalition and Amnesty International. She operates both SDS and the WSAC out of her office, located on the second floor of Coffman Union.
“I haven’t quite faced the brutal realities of adulthood,” Kelley said with a smirk.
The understated leader was initially involved with the WSAC, and after coupling with SDS on an Iraq War protest, she was invited to join the group.
SDS aims to create progressive change at the University and operates with a budget of less than $300. They use protests because “they build movements,” SDS member Tracy Molm said, citing the Civil Rights Movement as an example.
“I got to college and was angry about a lot of things but didn’t know why,” Kelley said.
Shortly after Kelley began her involvement with SDS, the Republican National Convention came to St. Paul, which she said showed her the impact of activism.
“The entire city of St. Paul became a police state,” Kelley said. “That signaled to me that there needed to be change.”
From there, Kelley rose to become the unofficial leader of SDS. Kelley described herself as a senior member of SDS, because the group does not vote on anything. “Voting can silence the minority; decisions are made after everyone gets a chance to speak.”
“We’re all kind of leaders,” said SDS member Kira Downey. “But she’s fantastic at organizing and has been instrumental in SDS actions these past couple years.”
A man and his media
Niemic is the highly vocal leader of SCV.
“When people meet him they think he is a [political science] major,” said Minnesota Republic contributor and distributor Quinn O’Reilly. “But he’s actually in IT and just really passionate about politics.”
Niemic expressed interest in SCV as a first-year student. He became president of SCV as a sophomore in 2008.
“He’s the driving force behind Students for a Conservative Voice,” said O’Reilly. “Everything runs through him.”
He uses his position in SCV and a handful of other groups, including the Minnesota Student Association, the Student Services Fees Committee, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow and Students for Human Life, to promote his conservative beliefs.
“A lot of the people trying to make things better are actually making it worse,” Niemic said.
Niemic holds strong to his convictions, which range from college athletics to student loan reform.
“If people disagree with what I believe, they will just have to deal with me,” he said.
Niemic is currently working on a campaign to get rid of federal student aid because he feels it only drives up tuition.
Niemic produces The Minnesota Republic in addition to more traditional forms of political participation.
He has been actively involved in political campaigns that span numerous states. He describes himself as a confidante of the College Republicans. He said he understands other political groups’ motives but criticizes their execution.
“A group like SDS takes a good-intended liberal idea,” said Niemic, “then turns it around with a bit of malice.”
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