With just two months left until the presidential election, volunteers across the country are working hard to support their candidate, including students here in Charleston. One of The College’s newest organizations, a chapter of the national grassroots program Students for Biden, was established in April by senior Kelsey Pratt. "I decided to try to establish a chapter ... when I realized that our country would not do well under another four years of the Trump administration," she says. “As somebody who has supported former presidential candidates across party lines and voted for a number of Republicans, I knew that I had to set aside certain political beliefs … as I put my support behind Joe Biden."
Kelsey leads Students for Biden at CofC alongside Social Media Coordinator Will Feus and Events Planner Kennedy Caldwell. Will says that he joined the cause to elect Biden because “we want America to have a person of integrity and compassion in the White House.” Kennedy hopes to "encourage young people to make the changes they want to see by exercising their right to vote."
Many Americans still have questions about who to vote for -- or whether they should vote at all. Luckily, people like Kelsey are ready to engage with those voters and have the tough conversations. Read on to find out why she backs Joe Biden and how her organization is working to make a difference at the College of Charleston.
Why do you believe that Joe Biden is the right choice for our country?
"Overall, I believe that Joe Biden is the best choice for our country because he has demonstrated that he is willing to reach citizens across the political spectrum during an otherwise divisive time in our nation’s history.
From a personal perspective, I am a future educator, so I am naturally concerned about the work that public schools do to support our students on an academic, social, and mental level. Unfortunately, we have a Secretary of Education in our current administration that does not have the experience necessary to start reforming the failing aspects of our public school system. Biden’s educational agenda includes a plan to increase funding for Title I schools that would require districts to spend money on increasing teacher salaries and other 'critical investments,' which addresses the issues with financial planning that certain school districts have.
Additionally, his plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and put the country on a path towards a clean energy economy are initiatives that I believe Democrats, Republicans, and third-party members can all rally behind. Most importantly, Joe Biden is capable of demonstrating empathy and the ability to see both sides of an issue -- characteristics that our nation needs in a President if we are to improve."
Obviously, many voters still have concerns about both Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris. In particular, their respective past criminal justice policies have drawn criticism for their impact on Americans of color. What do you make of these criticisms? What do you think a Biden/Harris administration would have to offer minorities?
"During the campaign season, I was admittedly concerned about Senator Harris’s record as a prosecutor in California. I initially supported Hawaiian Representative Tulsi Gabbard for the presidency, who claimed that Harris 'wrongfully convicted and locked up' over one thousand citizens who had committed marijuana offenses as the District Attorney of San Francisco. Therefore, I was concerned about how I would defend her record once Biden announced his VP pick, even though I objectively viewed Senator Harris as a brilliant, dedicated individual.
As a member of the national Students for Biden Leadership Council, I was fortunate to receive detailed briefings from other student leaders across the nation who knew more about Harris’s record than I initially did. Through listening to my peers, conducting my own research, and partly dismantling the hastily-formed judgments that I made about Kamala Harris’s history as an attorney, I discovered that she has engaged in crucial social work that makes her well-suited for the office of the Vice President. During her time as District Attorney, she created a re-entry program for young nonviolent offenders and established a Hate Crimes Unit that aimed to protect LGBTQ youth.
I understand that certain voters are apprehensive about Biden’s choice, but I think that it is important to acknowledge that her plan for minorities and marginalized communities is now linked with Biden’s. In acknowledging the hard toll that our climate change crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have borne upon Black and Brown communities across our country, the Biden-Harris economic agenda makes inclusivity an underlying point through establishing a plan to reform Opportunity Zones and introduce comprehensive business development programs at two-year HBCUs and public community colleges. Ultimately, I also believe it is important to celebrate the fact that Kamala Harris is the first African-American and Asian-American woman in the United States to appear as a Vice Presidential pick for a major party."
Some are also concerned by the allegations of sexual misconduct that Joe Biden has faced. What is your opinion on these allegations? How have they affected your decision to support Biden, if at all?
"When the sexual assault allegations made by former Senate aide Tara Reade arose, I was initially upset and apprehensive. As someone who had admired Joe Biden throughout his time as Vice President and an individual who had just created a chapter of Students for Biden at the College of Charleston, I was concerned that someone who had been vetted by former President Barack Obama could have gotten away with such actions. In the age of #MeToo, I believe it is important that all allegations made by women should be seriously considered. Regardless of what may have truly occurred in any given case, women have every right to stand up and share their stories without being shamed for doing so.
Therefore, I was grateful to see that a liberal media outlet such as MSNBC did not shy away from openly interviewing Joe Biden about Reade’s allegations. I remember watching portions of the interview in early May, and I was pleased with Mika Brzezinski’s frank tone and hard-hitting questions. During the interview process, Biden pointed to a previous statement that he made stating that he would request the secretary of the Senate to open the National Archives, which would reveal any complaints filed by Reade. Additionally, he was open to the release of any complaints made against him during his time as a Delaware Senator. Both his attitude of respect towards women who choose to come forward with their stories of sexual assault and his open nature towards the business with the National Archives demonstrated his willingness to be honest with the American people, at which point I was reassured."
If you could say anything to voters who are undecided, who plan to vote third-party, or who plan not to vote at all, what would you say?
"To voters who are undecided, I understand that the limits of our two-party system can be frustrating. I have voted across party lines throughout the time that I’ve been of age, and I’ve often had to cast a ballot for candidates that I’m not entirely enthused about in order to keep one politician out of office.
However, there is a certain quote floating around social media that has put the process and goal of voting into perspective for many conflicted young people. It reads, 'Voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transport. You’re not waiting for the one who’s absolutely perfect: you’re getting on the bus, and if there isn’t one to your destination, you don’t not travel -- you take the one going closest.'
I personally understand the appeal of the Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen, but we exist in a political system that has not yet been able to break from the constraints of a two-party system, and that is not going to change between now and November. In this case, I think it is important to ask who is best suited for working across the aisle and serving all Americans, regardless of their party affiliations. Whether it be through his plans to push the United States towards a clean energy economy or strengthen community and technical colleges, Joe Biden has demonstrated that he is eager to address issues that concern all American people."
How does your organization plan to mobilize voters at the College of Charleston?
"Mainly, we plan to mobilize young voters through hosting a voting drive in mid- to late-September. We were just fortunate to be trained by an incredible on-campus organization, CougarVotes. Now, we plan to turn the drive into a sort of competition, where the dorm or student apartment complex with the most registered voters wins a prize! So, be sure to look for us in Cougar Mall if you have any questions about voting absentee, voting by mail, or deciding to vote in your home precinct. This is arguably the most important election in modern history, and it is up to the youth to change the stigma surrounding our level of political efficacy through casting our ballots!"
Do you have any upcoming news or events?
"Currently, Students for Biden is working with other chapters in the Southeast and a bipartisan organization called Women for Impact Now to host a virtual Q&A event that addresses tips for voting in this year’s election, as well as ways for young voters to remain engaged with Biden’s campaign efforts in the midst of a pandemic. We are grateful that representatives at Women for Impact Now are attempting to invite Senate candidate Jaime Harrison, Congressman Joe Cunningham, or a representative from the Together For 2020 organization to speak to young people about political efficacy."
How can other students get involved in Students for Biden at CofC?
"Visit our Instagram @cofcstudentsforbiden or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We recommend that you start by joining the national organization by texting STUDENTS to 30330. Also, please fill out the membership form in our bio, indicating your grade level and any ideas that you have for events. Our Social Media Coordinator regularly posts updates that come from the national campaign, flyers for activities that other chapters are hosting (such as text banks), and notices about events that our organization is holding.
Finally, I want to note that this election has brought people from across the political spectrum together. If you conduct a quick search on social media, you’ll see that various groups such as the Lincoln Project, Women for Impact Now, Republicans for Biden, and Veterans for Biden are operating in order to restore decency to our White House. This election is bigger than any political party, so we want to make it clear that students of all backgrounds are welcome. Diversity will only enrich our experience as an organization."
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.