Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file
Houston Gaines, now SGA president, poses at City Hall after running Mayor Nancy Denson's successful reelection campaign in 2014.
In a presidential election year, interest in politics is naturally high. From internships to protesting to taking the podium at local government meetings, University of Georgia students have many opportunities to get involved at the local, state and national levels.
“I think there are a lot of ways for college students to be effective,” says Houston Gaines, the UGA Student Government Association president. “I do think we’re in a good position where students can have a voice, especially if you’re passionate about an issue.”
The SGA, for example, successfully lobbied the state legislature to pass a law requiring police to ticket, rather than arrest, underage drinkers, based on concerns that their online mugshots for a relatively minor infraction could hamper their employment prospects. SGA has also pushed the Athens-Clarke County government to ban discrimination at downtown bars and improve street lighting around downtown to keep students who are walking home safer.
Other local political groups welcome students (and other young people) and represent their views as well. Although they tend to come and go in a transient college community, several groups are currently fighting for issues popular among millennials, like decriminalizing marijuana, immigrants’ rights, climate change and even radical concepts like switching from capitalism to a gifting or bartering economy. (Fair warning, conservatives: In the town outside of campus, many consider Hillary Clinton a far-right-winger.)
Athens for Everyone formed out of progressive candidate Tim Denson’s mayoral campaign in 2014 and has pushed for improved public transit, access to health care and a local anti-discrimination law. Denson estimates that about a fifth of the members are students.
“We’ve had undergraduates and all levels help us, everything from getting petitions signed all the way up to heading our political committee,” he says. “It’s a great way to bridge that town-gown gap.”
Another option for the politically minded is to volunteer for a campaign. National and state-level campaigns often recruit door-to-door canvassers and phone-bankers on college campuses. And volunteer experience can even lead to a paying job—candidates have been known to hire UGA political science majors to run their campaigns. “It’s a great way to get your foot in the door,” says Gaines, who ran Mayor Nancy Denson’s re-election campaign two years ago.
Of course, there are plenty of apolitical ways to get involved in the community, too. Community Connection (communityconnection211.org) and Flagpole’s Bulletin Board section are good places to look for volunteer opportunities.
Here’s a list of local political groups to check out.