Third parties appeal to students

Josh Verges

It isn’t easy persuading Americans to turn their backs on the capitalist system, but Socialist Alternative President Canyon Lalama said he has at least two converts.

“I’ve pretty much convinced my parents that socialism is the way to go,” he said.

Battling everything from low membership to the two-party system, University third-party groups are working to provide political alternatives on campus.

Three nontraditional parties – the College Greens, Socialist Alternative and Campus Libertarians – strive to spread their ideas on campus.

The effect of third parties can be varied, political science professor Bill Flanigan said.

“They’re mobilizing some people into being politically active who probably wouldn’t have through the main political parties,” Flanigan said.

That was the case for University student Kellie Burriss, who participates in Green Party politics.

Growing up in Neenah, Wis., Burriss ignored politics until her senior year in high school when a friend started a Greens youth group. Burriss quickly became interested.

“I found out I could learn about politics by actively being involved in politics,” she said.

Burriss is now an officer for the College Greens, which has 50 University members and 250 additional subscribers to its e-mail list, she said.

She also serves as the group’s liaison to the state Green Party.

For Burriss, providing people with another way to get involved in politics is the reason the Green Party exists.

“It’s for people who generally aren’t able to be heard,” she said.

In other cases, Flanigan said, third parties engage in “symbolic politics,” raising issues in their campaigns that Republicans and Democrats might have neglected.

University senior Rebecca Stempfle, a Campus Libertarians officer, said the party often deals with underrepresented issues such as free trade and drug legalization.

“We focus on things that the other parties don’t focus on,” she said. “We’re more willing to take a chance than other parties are because they’re afraid of not being elected.”

With a handful of members in its campus group, the Libertarian Party appeals to a variety of

people who are united by fiscal conservatism and worry about government intrusion, Campus Libertarians President Brian Feldt said.

“Government should exist to enlarge individual liberty and nothing else,” he said.

Stempfle said she does not expect a Libertarian candidate to be elected anytime soon, but hopes the party can inform others about important issues.

Educating candidates and voters on issues is a common role for third parties, Flanigan said.

“They can’t really expect to win under a third party with few members,” he said. “But they can still have influence.”

Even with five members on its roster, the Socialist Alternative still makes a difference on campus, Lalama said.

“We have done a lot of things with just a handful of people,” he said. “We could do so much more with another handful.”

Lalama counts the anti-war walkout last spring and a Morrill Hall sit-in to support striking University clerical workers among the group’s successes.

Lalama said Socialist Alternative members work to solve the problems working and regular people face, such as a lack of universal health care.

The future of politics – and U.S. society in general – depends on the existence of third parties, Lalama said.

“The fact that there are only two parties right now is a huge hindrance in regular people getting their voices heard and laws and reforms passed.

“One of the next big steps of transforming society for the better is to have a party that actually does represent regular people Ö who aren’t getting anything but mouth service from the two parties now,” he said.

– Amy Hackbarth contributed to this report.