On the Record: Alum encourages students to get involved in D.C. politics
Vox recently sat down with Dave Stroup (COL’ 06), a recent Voice alum that led the campaign to draft candidate Bryan Weaver into the latest at-large D.C. Council race. Stroup, who works in field support and operations at the Sierra Club, offered his perspectives on this campaign and on student involvement in city politics at-large.
VP: Why did you ask Weaver to run?
DS: I thought it was a great opportunity for someone to shake things up. Basically, the thing that really stuck me was his concerns for the neighborhood he lived in and, by extension, the city.
VP: How did you first get involved in D.C. politics?
DS: When I came to Georgetown, I learned everything about D.C. politics from Mike DeBonis, who was actually my editor at the Voice. I wrote the City on Hill [D.C. affairs] column for two years.
Since I stayed in D.C. and am naturally a progressive Democrat. I just felt like this was a fascinating town for politics. There’s a lot of history, which is often difficult to overcome. But there are also a lot of younger people that are trying to do a lot.
VP: What is your opinion of efforts like DC Students Speak?
DS: I was amazed by what I’ve seen just in this race and over the last few months with student involvement because it’s hugely different from when I was at Georgetown.
When I first came to Georgetown, I registered to vote in D.C. because there was a big push to elect student ANC commissioners, but that was as far as it went. We registered students and elected the on-campus ANC and tried to compete a little bit the neighborhood. But it didn’t seem that most students thought about anything outside of the gates.
Ideally what I would love to see is for more students register to vote and speak out for what’s important in the city. At a minimum, students are going to be here for four years and many of them will stay afterwards. If they get involved on the local level with many of the issues that are important to them, then I think they’ll be more likely to stay in the city rather than go to Maryland, Arlington, or somewhere else.
These are the people we need to have stay in our city. Look what’s happening: We have this old guard of D.C. politics that is, by the day, more out of touch with the average person in D.C.
VP: Why do you think that is?
DS: Up until the Fenty-Gray campaign, I saw a lot of apathy among people my age who would say, “Oh, D.C.’s terrible, I’m not going to get involved.” Then you saw a lot of diehard, long-term residents who would vote for the status quo because there was nothing challenging that. I think how that happens is that you have people that get into office and then become very comfortable with being in office.
And, you know, a lot of times they’re good at certain things like constitutent service or bringing home the bacon, but they’re not looking at the bigger picture and they’re not willing to take any risks. Look at how many people have been on the Council for multiple terms. They feel safe. They don’t need to challenge the status quo because they are the status quo. I think that just leads to a very shallow talent pool, but I think that’s also changing.
VP: What would a forward-thinking Council look like?
DS: I would see such a Council as leaning towards the Tommy Wells-Marry Cheh end of the spectrum where we have people on the Council who are picturing what the city will look like in ten years, like “How can we make policies that will make people feel included,” beyond platitudes like “One City.”
We’re all in this together, but, at the same time, we need to understand that are significant differences between the concerns of people in Wards 7 and 8, and, say, people in Ward 3. We don’t have to pretend we’re all the same.
VP: How do you feel about the election results?
DS: Vincent Orange was really able to push his candidacy in places where his vote would not be split. He had the support of Democrats in Wards 7 and 8. Even Marion Barry was supporting him towards the end. The vote was more split west of the river and especially west of the park. The big message of the campaign was, “we don’t want Vincent Orange because he’s old school,” but no one could decide what the new school is going to look like.
A lot of people were also voting with who they thought had the best chance to win. For example, there were Democrats voting for [Republican] Patrick Mara.
It was encouraging to see Bryan carry Ward 1 because it shows that a lot of people were willing to take a chance on a new voice even if it means Vincent Orange gets into office.
VP: What does it take for a progressive like Weaver to win?
DS: What would be vital for anyone who’s trying to win on a progressive platform is to be very inclusive and make sure they’re spreading that message in every part of the city.
VP: What should students do to have more influence citywide?
DS: I would suggest that it’s really important to stay informed. Pick the issues that most resonate with you and then talk to everyone involved. Reach out to Jack Evans. Reach out to other councilmembers that are important. Reach out to your ANCs, even if they’re not necessarily open to it, and hold them accountable. Your vote counts just as much as the neighbor who’s been living there for ten years and is complaining about the campus plan.
I’m not an expert; I just got involved. Don’t assume that people won’t listen to you. Even if they won’t listen, just keep talking and saying what you want to say. Go to every meeting you can and eventually they will have to listen.