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American Abroad: Michael Nirenberg, President of Democrats Abroad at McGill

Though the main excitement for our own national elections has already come and gone, culminating in a fellow McGill grad taking the title of Prime Minister, our friendly neighbour to the south is just getting started with their own national elections. It’s an exciting time for all Americans, including those studying outside of the US. On our own campus, Democrats Abroad at McGill helps American students abroad register to vote from overseas and hosts several events throughout the year, such as debate-viewing parties or social events to mingle with other Americans at McGill. This week, Her Campus McGill had the chance to chat with the current President of Democrats Abroad at McGill, Michael Nirenberg, for his perspective on the elections and life at McGill as an American.

Regina Wung for Her Campus McGill (HC McGill): Hi Michael! Thanks for agreeing to interview with us. First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Michael Nirenberg (MN): I’m a U3 student, majoring in Political Science and double minoring in History and Philosophy. My hometown is Weston, Florida, a small suburban town 25 minutes outside of Miami. On any given day, you may find me on campus in an animal print button down shirt scrolling through New York Times articles or watching old Marx Brothers’ movies.

HC McGill: What made you choose to come to McGill, as an American student?

MN: This is a little known secret about me – I was actually born in Toronto and have dual Canadian and American citizenship. I like to joke that I’m Canadian on paper but American by culture. I went to a large high school. Our graduating class consisted of nearly 1,000 students and our ceremony took place in a major league baseball stadium. I was presented the opportunity to attend university in Florida, but I didn’t want four more years with the same community and atmosphere. I was seeking a college experience far outside of my comfort zone and willing to meet new people. On paper, McGill was the perfect combination of foreign and familiar. Truthfully, I wasn’t entirely sure about my decision to attend McGill until my first visit [when I] fell in love with the campus; that’s when I knew I made the right choice.

HC McGill: Can you tell us a little bit about Democrats Abroad and what you do here at McGill?

MN: We are the liaison between McGill University students and Democrats Abroad, specifically the Montreal chapter, and the United States Democratic Party. We provide non-partisan and absentee voter registration assistance along with organizing social events for political broadcasts (Candidate debates, State of the Union, etc.). We are a safe environment for U.S. political discussion and debate, for all students regardless of citizenship.

HC McGill: What are the requirements for joining the club? (Do you have to be a Democrat? Do you have to be American?)

MN: None. We don’t have an application process. We don’t take club dues. We have no barriers to entry. Anybody from any nationality or any political leaning is welcome to join us for any of our events or meetings.

HC McGill: What made you decide to get involved with Democrats Abroad at McGill?

MN: I first became aware of Democrats Abroad at McGill leading up to the presidential election in 2012. Back then the club had just been revived after losing its following for over a decade. I originally attended out of necessity; I had slight homesickness and couldn’t find an outlet for American political conversation. Throughout my years at McGill, the club has served as an excellent environment for Americans to speak their minds, recollect about life back home, and feel a sense of community within McGill.

HC McGill: What are your main responsibilities as president?

MN: First off, I must say I have a phenomenal executive board. The club would not be as effective as we are without them. The largest portion of my role as President is communicating with the larger Montreal chapter and speak on behalf of the McGill network within Montreal. I also lead and moderate our weekly discussion meetings, oversee all of our internal research and our absentee voting registration process.

HC McGill: Can you give a brief, Sparknotes version of how the American election system works for our non-American readers?

MN: Right now we are in the primary phase of the presidential election, meaning each party is conducting state-by-state elections to decide who will be their nominee come the general election. Once the nominee for each side is decided, a general election is held on the first Tuesday in November nationwide. On Election Day, Americans will decide between two President/Vice President combinations. Their selections go to the Electoral College, a group of electors who are allocated a particular number of electoral votes depending on state population. These votes are winner-take-all – whoever wins the majority of the people in the state gets all the votes. Whichever party has the majority to electoral votes wins the election and becomes the next President and Vice President.

HC McGill: What do you think of the ongoing campaigns right now in the US?

MN: It’s certainly an exciting time! I’ve actually never seen anything quite like it. I can’t recall an election where more brash, outspoken, anti-establishment candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have such large and intense followings. This election is a great entry point for first-time voters or students seeking a greater understanding of American politics.

HC McGill: What are your main goals for Democrats Abroad at McGill as a club?

MN: When I became President in October 2014, we had great difficulty getting attendees to our events. We knew there were interested Americans on campus, we just couldn’t seem to find them. Now in my final months as President, we consistently fill entire bars with our viewing parties and have a bigger following than ever. I’d really like to see us keep growing and become more accessible to intrigued McGill students!

HC McGill: How can other American students at McGill get involved with Democrats Abroad?

MN: We hold weekly discussion meetings every Tuesday afternoon in SSMU. I love hosting these meetings, it’s a fantastic way to catch up on current events while hearing from a variety of different perspectives. We are constantly updating our Facebook page. And I can’t stress enough, FILL OUT AN ABSENTEE BALLOT. Moving out from home doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your vote. Signing up is a very easy process and Democrats Abroad can assist every step of the way if needed!

HC McGill: Are you involved in any other clubs/activities outside of school?

MN: Yes. I’m also serving as one of the Undergraduate Student Representatives on the McGill Senate’s Appeal Committee for Student Discipline and Grievances. I had previously served on the Political Science Student Association’s Academic Portfolio, but gave up my position this year. Saying all this out loud now makes me wonder why I have no free time!

HC McGill: I know every student dreads this question, but I have to ask: what are you planning on doing after graduation?

MN: I knew this question was coming! Unfortunately, I honestly don’t have a good answer. I wrote the LSAT earlier this year and am waiting to hear back from potential law schools. Until then I’m just waiting in anticipation. 

HC McGill: What will you miss the most about McGill after graduation?

MN: You may be the first person to ask me! My first impulse is the say the personal bonds and friendships I’ve made over my time at McGill. Growing up in a small town, I’ll definitely also miss the excitement that comes with living in downtown Montreal. This may come as a shock, but I’m going to miss the lectures too. I’ve heard a lot of professors speak on a lot of interesting subjects; I guess I’ll miss the consistent intellectual stimulation. One thing I absolutely won’t miss: black ice.

 

Photos provided by interviewee.

After spending a wonderful fall 2015 term in Paris, France, Regina is in her final semester at McGill University, studying Economics and French. She loves reading and writing in her spare time, travelling to foreign places, and baking anything she has the ingredients for. She also occasionally plays the oboe. Some of Regina's favourites include the colour blue, the season of fall, and the movie You've Got Mail. You can follow her on Instagram under the handle @reginawung.
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