Students start nonpartisan political group during contentious election season

Students start nonpartisan political group during contentious election season

Senior Michael Haug
Senior Michael Haug
T hroughout the 2020 ruckus of pandemic and political mayhem, a new student organization was born at Georgia College. It effectively proved that political discourse can be diverse—even polar opposite—and still remain civil and polite.

What is a public liberal arts education, after all, if not the open discussion of ideas?

That’s what senior Michael Haug was looking for last winter, as the presidential election earnestly got underway. On campus, he found groups for the Young Democrats, College Republicans and Young Democratic Socialists of America. There was Bobcat Votes, the American Democracy Project and Turning Point USA. Everyone seemed to have a safe space for likeminded friendliness and a sense of belonging. 

But Haug, a political skeptic, didn’t seem to fit anywhere. He wanted a place where the undetermined, doubters and “political oddballs” would feel comfortable speaking alongside people with sure convictions.

So, Haug started a nonpartisan group, the GC Political Society, with junior Andrew Fierbaugh. The two business management majors wanted to provide a platform where both sides of the political spectrum could talk regularly and be exposed to opinions and ideas that directly clash with their own.

Club logo.
Club logo.

It’s a rough time to be interested in politics. What our organization’s trying to do is provide that model, that example of how adults disagree. We want more than anything to be a model for our fellow students and, frankly, for our parents, our older siblings and society in general.
– Michael Haug
The importance of dialogue is more apparent than ever. The rancor in this year’s presidential election troubled the two friends. Currently in-between parties and political ideals himself, Haug said he wanted to create a forum where all sides come together, argue and listen without vindictiveness or bitter resentment. A place where everyone—young and old, right, left or in the middle—could join discussions and debates without fear of ridicule and insult.

“It’s a rough time to be interested in politics,” Haug said. “What our organization’s trying to do is provide that model, that example of how adults disagree. We want more than anything to be a model for our fellow students and, frankly, for our parents, our older siblings and society in general.”

“Essentially, what our organization’s trying to do is bring about a situation,” he said, “where we can disagree civilly like adults.”

Michael Haug, president of GC Political Society
Michael Haug, president of GC Political Society
To get people talking, the friends developed a constitution last spring and registered their group on campus. The GC Political Society airs debates and discussions on their Facebook page, which has about 200 followers so far. 

They hosted debates on criminal justice reform and the Electoral College, as well as discussions about the future of the ‘left and right’ in America. They also partnered with Dr. Brandy Kennedy’s Public Opinion class. Her students research Gallop polls on things like the Electoral College and various voting systems. Haug provides that information to group members before, during and after debates and discussions. He wants to partner with the political science department more in the future, so the club is educational and spurs more young adults to vote. People always say, “This is the year. It’s going to happen. The young will go out and vote. But, each time,” he said, “we keep dropping the ball.” 

Part of the problem is youth don’t feel they’re allowed to openly discuss or question politics. Haug recalls his family’s table. A few minutes into the meal, his father would say, “No politics at dinner.” This disappointed Haug, because he always loved politics. With only his four sisters to text on political topics, he feels this generation hasn’t been given adequate opportunity to debate ideas. 

As a young person, it’s really frustrating, especially with the kind of deterioration we’ve seen in American politics. It’s really frustrating for young people just tuning in. But if we don’t like the way political discourse is; if we don’t like the way the presidential debates went; if we don’t like the options that are in front of us—it’s our responsibility to get engaged and fix that.
– Haug

People told Haug a nonpartisan political club wouldn’t work. They said discussions would become hostile, much like the 2020 political atmosphere. Haug thought they might be right. Politics has become a “join or die kind of thing. Either be on my side or you’re the enemy,” he said.

But, it turns out, Georgia College students can discuss opposite political views without insulting or attacking one another. Club debates have been “courteous and kind,” Haug said. The recent discussion on criminal justice reform had “tons of consensus too.”

We don’t condone any personal attacks under any circumstances. That’s a huge rule, and we’re really serious about it.
– Haug
“Everybody was there in good faith, and it was just lovely to model how adults can have a political conversation,” he said. “We don’t condone any personal attacks under any circumstances. That’s a huge rule, and we’re really serious about it.”

“You can call somebody’s idea any name under the sun—we’re free speech in that way. If you need to use some colorful language to do it, that’s ok as long as it isn’t aimed at any person,” Haug said. “But never ever will it be allowed in the GC Political Society to try and paint the other side as evil or in some way fundamentally bad as people, because they’re not. They’re our fellow Bobcats. And, if you find their ideas reprehensible, then you can explain to them why they’re wrong in a civil manner.” 

Haug hopes GC Political Society can act as a healing catalyst in months to come.
Haug hopes GC Political Society can act as a healing catalyst in months to come.
Now that the election’s over, club officers intend to host weekly political discussions online, in an attempt to act as a healing catalyst and “broadly foster camaraderie and community” on campus. 

When he graduates in May, Haug plans to get a master’s in public policy and pass the club presidency to Fierbaugh. He hopes other students will step forward to carry on their work, as well, so the liberal arts education at Georgia College continues to provide a place where all political views are politely discussed and tolerated.

 

I’m a guy that likes it all. I’m interested in all political parties. I’m somewhere lost, figuring out which way to go. And it’s a messy time to figure it all out. That’s why it’s so much fun doing this GC Political Society, because I’m talking to everyone.
– Haug