In light of the Trump administration, the Associate Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate initiated a letter-writing campaign Feb. 14 on the academic quad for students to channel their frustrations into activism. Students wrote to congressional representatives about issues that concerned them, with the help of letter templates provided by ASOC. The letter-writing campaign was the beginning of a pilot plan hosted by ASOC, which they hope will be a recurring initiative to engage students in political activism. For the first day of the initiative, 15 students attended the event and seven letters were written.
Senior Class Senator Nicholas Descamps came up with the idea for the letter-writing campaign over winter break. Descamps wanted to create an event where students could form connections with their representatives and government as a whole.
“I want this to get more college students involved and to get student voices heard,” Decamps said.
Descamps specifically chose letter writing as the focus of the initiative because he believed it would be a way for all students, no matter what their views, to get engaged in local politics. He decided against creating a petition because he did not want to force students into any particular issue. Rather, he hoped that the ASOC event would provide a platform for all students to get engaged with an issue that interests them so that the letters will be noticed by representatives.
When letters are received by a representative’s office, they are logged in an online database and a response is sent to the constituent.
In California’s 34th district, where Occidental is located, the office of the representative is currently vacant, following Representative Xavier Becerra’s resignation Jan. 24. According to the House of Representative’s website, letters sent to the 34th district’s office will be acknowledged, but staff members will not be able to comment on the issues.
According to the website, the staff of the vacant office can assist constituents with general information concerning the status of legislation, but cannot provide analysis of issues or render opinions.
Sophomore Class Senator Zachary Solomon said that since many Occidental students are from areas outside the 34th district, they were free to choose where they sent the letters. Solomon said that the Trump presidency is an issue that has been on everyone’s mind, but that students were not persuaded to write on any specific issue or topic.
“The goal is not to tell students what they should be writing about, and we want to encourage students to engage on issues that they feel strongly about,” Solomon said.
Angie Peckham (junior) was one of the 15 who attended the event and wrote to her local representative, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Ca. Peckham was most concerned with human rights under the Trump presidency.
“I specifically expressed my interest in maintaining human rights when handling immigration,” Peckham said.
Peckham, who describes herself as being politically active, viewed the ASOC event as a way for other students to get involved in politics.
“I chose to participate in the ASOC campaign since I’ve seen the effect that contacting your representatives can have,” Peckham said.
Descamps, who has experience working for Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont, said that in order to get noticed by representatives, consistency is key.
“Repetition of bringing up an issue is what gets noticed, not necessarily large numbers of people,” Decamps said.
He suggested that the next possible initiative could be an ASOC-hosted phone-calling event.
“Calls would put a human voice to it — have the office know that we are real people,” Descamps said.
Having studied civic and consumer engagement, Politics Professor Caroline Heldman reiterated that phone calls are the most effective way to reach a representative on pressing issues.
“[Phone calls] essentially give the member a running tally of what her or his constituents are concerned about, and their stance on the issue,” Heldman said.
Heldman said that collective consumer and public action are effective ways to make a political statement, especially through mediums like Twitter.
Solomon and Descamps are both committed to ensuring that this program provides a service to Occidental students. Solomon said that he plans to continue the initiative even after ASOC Senate member Descamps graduates this year.
“I was interested in helping him with the initiative and making sure it continues, even after he graduates, because I think political participation is an important thing for Occidental students to do,” Solomon said.
Solomon said that the campaign is still in its beginning stages, but he has high hopes.
“I see the letter writing campaign as a part of a wider movement of greater political involvement by Occidental students,” Solomon said.