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.
- UGA College Republicans
- Athens-Clarke County Republican Party
Meets the second Monday of the month at 6 p.m. at Country Inn & Suites, 236 Old Epps Bridge Road.
- Young Democrats of UGA
- Clarke County Democratic Committee
Meets the fourth Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. at 1063 Baxter St., suite B.
- Athens Area Libertarian Party
- Athens-Clarke County Commission
Meets the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 301 College Ave.
- UGA Student Government Association
Although elections were last spring, freshmen can get involved by filling out a form on the website.
- Athens for Everyone
Progressive political group that pressures local and state government on issues like transit and health care. Office in Chase Park at 159 Oneta St., unit 4.
- Freedom University
Formerly based in Athens, now in Atlanta, this alliance of undocumented immigrants, allies and professors both educates and advocates for undocumented immigrants’ access to higher education.
- UGA NAACP
Athens-Clarke County also has a chapter, but it has no website.
- Economic Justice Coalition
Registers voters and advocates for a living wage.
- Bombs Away Collective
Anarchist group that organizes free markets, free classes and free meals. Physical location at 317 N. Chase St.
- Food Not Bombs
Shares vegetarian and vegan food and clothing every other Saturday from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the corner of Broad Street and College Avenue.
- Athens Really Really Free Market
Take or leave whatever you want the second Saturday of the month from 12–2 p.m. at Reese and Pope Park, 375 Reese St.
- Bag the Bag UGA
Encourages recycling and is pushing to ban plastic bags.
- Athens CARE
Seeks to reform marijuana laws.
- Georgia Climate Change Coalition
Athens-based environmental group.
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