Political Forum forges ties with London: New student society fosters discussion and exchange

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, politically aware Oles assembled in the Black Ballroom over dinner to engage in discussion, speculation, laughter and debate. Though Political Awareness Committee PAC Weekly Dinners are quickly becoming a staple of this year’s political conversation on campus, Tuesday night’s discussion introduced a brand-new campus entity: the St. Olaf Political Forum.

Josh Martin ’14 spent last year studying abroad at the London School of Economics LSE, where he was introduced to the LSE Politics and Forum Society. He described the society as a weekly opportunity for students to gather for a meal or a drink and discuss political issues. Inspired, Martin made plans to organize a similar society upon his return to St. Olaf this fall. But rather than simply copy LSE’s format, Martin decided to create a partnership.

Martin worked with administrators from both LSE and St. Olaf to make the partnership official, and the St. Olaf Political Forum received recognition from the Student Organizations Committee on Friday, Sept. 27.

Martin explained that he hopes the partnership fosters meaningful communication and the exchange of ideas between members of both societies. He said that there will be opportunities for LSE students to write for PAC’s new PoliticOle blog and for Oles to write for the London group’s blog.

To kick off the St. Olaf Political Forum’s first dinner discussion, Martin asked the 20 attendees to divide into groups based on which political issues they wanted to address.

“Take a minute to decide at your tables what you want to discuss,” Martin said. Within seconds, though, the members had arrived at a unanimous conclusion, so they pushed three tables together to begin a discussion about last week’s federal government shutdown.

Beginning with speculation about how long the shutdown might last, the discussion covered numerous aspects of the issue. Dinner attendees addressed satirical pieces by John Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel, how the shutdown could impact the unity of the Republican party, which parts of the government actually shut down and the upcoming deadline for Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

“You don’t realize how big of an impact government has on you until it shuts down,” Martin said.

“I was surprised by how many people didn’t know [the shutdown] was happening,” PAC Coordinator Rachel Palermo ’15 said.

“I love this government. I love this democracy. But sometimes it’s hard to compare it to places like the U.K. and Scandinavia,” Tom Freeman ’14 said. Martin, too, noted that his time in London made him look at the U. S. government from a different perspective.

Students rounded out their energetic dialogue with discussion about possible Republican presidential candidates for the 2016 election.

“It will be interesting to see what happens from here on out,” Palermo said.

“And who comes out standing and who comes out looking like an idiot,” Taylor Lipo Zovic ’14 added.

With a volatile political climate in the U.S., PAC and the Political Forum are eager to keep campus discussion lively and engaged.

Palermo explained that once a month, PAC will co-sponsor the Political Forum as its Weekly Dinner. The other Tuesdays of each month will feature speakers discussing specific U.S. and world issues.

“Anyone can join the [Political Forum],” Martin said. The next forum discussion will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 29, and all Oles are encouraged to attend.