Engaging in the political process

GVL/Mackenzie Bush - GVSU College Democrats meet Tuesday, March 14, 2017 to plan the first anual Laker gala.

Mackenzie Bush

GVL/Mackenzie Bush – GVSU College Democrats meet Tuesday, March 14, 2017 to plan the first anual Laker gala.

Emily Doran

The Grand Valley State University College Democrats club will host its first annual Lakers Gala Saturday, March 18, to raise funds for the fledgling organization, invigorate young voters and connect with different Michigan governmental leaders.

The gala will be held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the GVSU Alumni House and is open to all GVSU faculty, staff and students free of charge. Non-GVSU attendees will need to purchase a $30 ticket either at the door or online. Attendees can also purchase other sponsorship amounts, including $50 silver sponsorship, $100 gold sponsorship, $150 diamond sponsorship and $250 platinum sponsorship.

The GVSU College Democrats have been planning this gala since the fall 2016 semester with the hope of getting their organization off the ground and ready to participate in future political activities. Andrew Nurmi, the vice president of GVSU College Democrats, said the organization was practically nonoperational until last fall when he and the current president of the organization, Wesley Wilson, resuscitated it. He said one of the primary goals of this gala, then, is to raise funds for the club.

“Since our organization was essentially defunct, we had no funds whatsoever,” Nurmi said. “We didn’t have a bank account, even. So, we’ve set up this event with the intent of being a fundraiser to generate funding for our organization that we can then use to propel us and get us to other fundraisers in the future that we’d like to do but stuff that would require more start-up money.

“But then we’re also calling it the first annual Lakers Gala because we want it to be an annual thing, and we want to make this a really cool recurring event that people will want to come to every year.”

The gala will start off with food and socializing, followed by several speeches from Michigan-based political figures, including former State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who will give the keynote address. Other speakers include Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon and State Senate Minority Caucus Chair David Knezek, among others.

Nurmi said one focus of the speeches would be how Democrats can move forward after the results of the 2016 elections.

“We’re the party of resistance now because we’re out of power in just about every level,” Nurmi said. “In the federal government, we’re out of power, and in the state of Michigan, Republicans control the governorship and also the state senate and state house. So, (it’s) going to be about how do we rebuild from here, where do we go from here, things we can do in the meantime and ways that we can try and still have a voice in government even when we don’t control it.”

Wilson said another purpose of the gala is to excite and engage college-aged attendees to encourage them to participate in political activities.

“In a roundabout way, besides raising money because we don’t have any right now, it’s to gain excitement,” he said. “Having people like (Gretchen Whitmer) will generate excitement and grow the group. When you have somebody like that come to your college (and) get college students to come and see these people here, it will get them excited and involved, and that’s what we hope to do coming up with 2018.”

Wilson said although a larger number of millennials than usual went to the polls in the 2016 elections, there was still a significant chunk of young people who did not vote at all.

“Young people don’t show up as much as they should be, and now millennials are the largest block population-wise of any group because baby boomers are dying off, so getting them engaged and getting them voting will win elections,” he said.

Wilson said the event would also be an opportunity to hold the political figures in attendance accountable and encourage them to focus on understanding and connecting with millennials and the issues that affect them specifically.

“It’s better in Michigan for young people (to) get politicians caring about them, but it’s still not at the level it should be and not at the involvement that it should be, so it’s more about, ‘okay, now we have you guys trapped here, let’s talk about how you need to focus on young people,’” he said.

For more information about the Lakers Gala, visit www.gvsu.edu/events/college-democrats-first-annual-lakers-gala/.