Alumni form left-leaning political group
The organization — which held its first on-campus event on Friday afternoon, an open house at Terrace Club — was founded in 2011 by a group of alumni who felt that there wasn’t a strong network of left-of-center alumni.
And since its founding, Princeton Progressives has expanded beyond just connecting alumni; on the organization’s website, it lists Princeton-affiliated candidates running for public office.
It also maintains a draft of a “Princeton Progressive Honor Roll,” featuring University alumni, faculty members and trustees with perceived liberal ties, ranging from economics professor Paul Krugman to University President Shirley Tilghman.
Jason Gold ’81, one of the organization’s founders, said the group formed partially as a response to the national political scene, which he said had inched rightward.
“The conversation has migrated, and we would love to see the center of the conversation back to the center, and to do that the left has to have more of a voice,” Gold said. “There has to be a full range of ideas that are at and left of center.”
According to Princeton Progressives founders, Concerned Alumni of Princeton was one group in particular that showed the power of conservative, University-affiliated organizations. This conservative alumni association opposed the co-education of women and came under scrutiny during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito ’72. Tom Burka ’81, another founder of Princeton Progressives, mentioned the need for a counterweight to that group.
“A part of the notion of conceiving this group is to have a counterpart for that conservative organization,” Burka said. “It seems to me that conservatives are just better connected.”
While the organization was founded by Princeton alumni, Gold said that he hoped to see collaboration between alumni and current students. The organization had reached out to the College Democrats, the LGBT alliance and other organizations on campus that would likely fall under the progressive umbrella, one of the other founders said.
“We would love for students to know that you don’t have to give up your progressive ideals when you graduate and you get a job,” Gold said. “We’re all successful professionals with Princeton degrees and progressive.”
Friday’s open house at Terrace Club — which is not affiliated with the group — attracted a handful of students. Some students said they found out about the open house through Terrace, but other students, like Lelabari Giwa-Ojuri ‘14, as the president of a progressive student organization on campus, received an email over the summer from an alumnus about the group.
“I think one of the important things I’ve wanted to see on Princeton’s campus is a network of progressive activists and organizations,” Giwa-Ojuri said. “So many times there are very similar events at the same time or student leaders doing similar things but they’re not connected, so Princeton Progressives is a great way to bring people together, to be more effective with progressive political activism and developing student leaders.”
Many members of Princeton Progressives learned of the organization from a letter it published in the Princeton Alumni Weekly in January, which said that the University “is perceived to be a bastion of conservatism, but we believe this does not reflect the diversity of the Princeton community.”
Jimmy Tarlau ’70, a member of the executive board who learned of the organization through the PAW letter, said Princeton Progressives is unique in its efforts to recruit student members.
According to Tarlau, neither the Princeton Action Network, which existed in the early 1980s, nor the Princeton Progressive Alumni, formed in 1989, has been active on campus in several years. While the Princeton Progressive Alumni gave the Norman Thomas Award annually to progressive student groups and offered counseling sessions for seniors on alternative careers in social change, neither of the organizations ever boasted student membership.
Sandy Harrison ’74, who also learned about Princeton Progressives from the PAW letter, said that the nation’s current political atmosphere makes the need for a liberal counterpoint especially relevant.
“Now that the whole political atmosphere of the country has become more tilted to the right, this is kind of our counterpoint,” Harrison said.
The organization’s immediate goal is to provide students with opportunities to work on this November’s election. But in the longer term, the organization hopes to foster political conversations and connect with similar organizations at other universities. Gold mentioned the University of Wisconsin, which has a progressive alumni organization at every branch of the university.
“When I talked to friends of mine who went to peer schools, it seems like if these organizations exist, at least my friends don’t know about that,” Gold said. “It would be great to see this be a successful growing thing.”
According to founder Alison Holtzschue ‘82, the organization currently boasts a membership of around 200 on its actual mailing list, which consists mostly of alumni.
During Friday’s event, the Princeton Progressives also presented its first ever Head in the Sand Award — a critical designation given to people whose views conflict with progressive ideals — to Princeton trustee George Will for his comments on global warming.
In its presentation of the award, the Princeton Progressives stated that Will had dismissed global warming alarms, denouncing warnings as “interest-group politics.”
“Somebody who has the benefit of a Princeton education shouldn’t be just pushing a partisan view which is disassociated from the facts,” Burka said. “I think he knows full well that climate change is a real thing and is just promoting this for some sort of political advantage.”
Burka said the award was a fun way to promote one of the organization’s views in a way that was directly related to the Princeton community, since Will’s statements were inconsistent with the University’s goals to educate people.
Ultimately, Gold said that he hopes Princeton Progressives will grow and collaborate to include the entire college-educated progressive community. “That’s my fantasy,” he said.