Young Democrats at 31 colleges across the country are boycotting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee over its decision to cut off vendors working for primary challengers.
The Harvard College Democrats released a letter Wednesday calling for a national boycott of donations to the party’s House campaign arm, urging people instead to contribute to individual candidates until the DCCC reverses the rule. By Wednesday afternoon, 26 chapters of college Democrats from Spelman to Arizona State had signed the letter calling the policy “regressive” and “undemocratic.” By Thursday, 14 more joined, according to Hank Sparks, president of the Harvard College Democrats.
The DCCC released guidelines last month for vendors working the 2020 election cycle, requiring them to agree not to work with any candidates challenging Democratic incumbents. The committee has stood by the change even as progressive leaders met privately with Chair Cheri Bustos and slammed it. Former committee Chair Ben Ray Luján has distanced himself from the policy. And House Democrats — including Reps. Ted Lieu, former DCCC vice chair and current vice chair of House Democrats’ LGBT Equality caucus; Ayanna Pressley; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Raul Grijalva; Joe Kennedy; Jahana Hayes — have voiced their opposition.
“The rule would financially deter and greatly disadvantage vital new voices in our party, who are often younger and come from underrepresented and historically marginalized communities and identities,” the students’ letter reads. “Primary challengers are essential to ensure that the Democratic Party is continually held accountable to the needs of our constituents. This blacklist policy is undemocratic and antithetical to our values of inclusion and diversity.”
The students also call out the DCCC for releasing the vendor rule alongside diversity standards it will hold vendors to. They cite Pressley, who said that Democrats “cannot credibly lay claim to prioritizing diversity & inclusion when institutions like the DCCC implement policies that threaten to silence new voices and historically marginalized communities.”
This is young Harvard politicos’ second moment in the national spotlight in the span of a week, as students from the school drew attention through aggressive questioning of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and others at a recent televised presidential forum. One student, in a health care question directed to California Sen. Kamala Harris, bizarrely caped for insurance companies. (Harris told the student not to be “duped.”) Another student told Sanders that the money he earned from his best-selling book “undermines your authority as someone who has railed against millionaires and billionaires.” A third demanded that he explain the “failures of socialism in nearly every country that has tried it.”
Even for Harvard Democrats, though, the DCCC has gone too far in its pursuit of a monopoly over the direction of the party. Sparks told The Intercept that the students have been building a coalition over the last week, and that after the CNN town hall on Monday, they realized “we do have a platform to sort of bring attention to things.”
Sparks said his chapter was heavily involved in phone-banking for the DCCC in 2018, particularly for races in districts designated as “Red to Blue,” where the committee identified promising challengers in Republican-held districts and gave them a boost in fundraising and organizational support.
“We do feel like we’ve done a lot of work to sort of help build this new Democratic majority,” Sparks said. “And so we feel like we’re stakeholders in this process as young Democrats. That they should consult us on policies like these.”
College students aren’t exactly bundling big money for the DCCC. “Honestly, it probably won’t have a big financial impact,” Sparks said. “But it’s more about using this language of boycott to draw attention to the issue and to use our platform as students to hopefully get them to reconsider the policy.”
The DCCC says its record of supporting candidates of diverse backgrounds speaks for itself.
“The DCCC is proud of its historic work, flipping 43 formerly Republican seats and electing the most diverse caucus in American history,” DCCC spokesperson Cole Leiter said in a statement to The Intercept. “And as Democrats in the House combat Republicans’ attacks on Americans’ health care, take on special interests in Washington, and fight for an economy that works for everyday Americans, we are already well into our work to fortify this newly won House Majority and take the fight even deeper into ruby-red districts come 2020.”
Sparks and young students across the country poised to carry on the party’s work don’t see it that way. “Primary challengers like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have brought to the fore issues like climate justice in a very, very new way,” Sparks said. “And I think to do anything that would silence voices like theirs would not be good for the party.”
If you’re a college student who is joining the boycott, contact this reporter at [email protected]
Correction: April 25, 2019, 1:51 p.m. ET
A previous version of this article misstated Rep. Ted Lieu’s affiliation with House Democrats’ LGBT Equality caucus, of which he is a vice chair. The article has also been updated to clarify that the DCCC set standards for diversity among vendors, rather than affirming its commitment to diversity. The piece has also been updated to reflect the growing number of college groups that joined the boycott.