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Here's how UNC's political groups are staying active while campus is shut down

Katie Craig from NCPIRG speaks during an NCPIRG online training session. Photo courtesy of Katie Craig.

UNC’s political clubs and organizations are finding ways to stay connected to their members away from campus as the COVID-19 outbreak continues, and the 2020 elections approach. 

Many of these groups are using virtual methods to meet and organize, focusing on issues ranging from textbook availability to the 2020 election.

The UNC Young Americans for Liberty is an organization based on "the principles of individual liberty," according to its website. Paul Buttles, a first-year physics and math major and president of the club, said the group plans on holding Zoom meetings to connect.

“We’re definitely going to continue doing the weekly Zoom meetings, as they worked really well,” Buttles said. “We had the same amount of attendance as we normally do.”

Buttles said the club aims to find new ways to stay politically involved without needing to be around each other, including writing letters to representatives on a variety of different issues. 

Rupanil Jain, a junior majoring in global studies and philosophy, is the president of the UNC-CH Young Democrats. 

Jain said the Young Democrats had many events centered around the North Carolina primaries and are glad those were able to occur before UNC moved to remote learning. They are using this time to reorganize and prepare for the fall, Jain said.  

“It’s definitely become harder to organize and prepare, but that doesn’t mean we should stop,” Jain said. “When we do come back in the fall, knock on wood, we will be able to help organize campus again.”

Other political groups on campus are also using this time to recollect and plan for next semester. The UNC-CH Young Independents are planning voter registration drives and other events for the fall, Colin Lowe, the co-president of the club and a junior political science major, said.

The Network of Enlightened Women — an organization for conservative women — had to cancel several events but has been connecting over GroupMe to plan for the future, Nicole Divers, the group's president and a senior political science and economics major, said.

The North Carolina Public Interest Research Group is urging students to pay attention to how the pandemic affects various political issues, Katie Craig, campus organizer for NCPIRG and UNC graduate, said. 

“It’s very important that students are being vigilant and paying attention to what else is in the news that’s maybe not just the front headline,” Craig said. “With a lot of our issues, you can see how they become more important and complex in this time.”

NCPIRG is working on a survey that assesses student needs on college campuses — including UNC — during the pandemic. 

Craig said the group is also continuing to work on its existing campaigns using online methods like Zoom and Google Hangout to host webinars, trainings and campaign meetings. 

“We know that issues like college affordability, climate change and the 2020 election are not going away and, if anything, they’re more complicated and more complex now than ever,” Craig said. “So, we are definitely continuing to work on and organize on those, but completely virtually.” 

She said instead of standing in the Pit and collecting petitions from students in-person, NCPIRG is doing online calling sessions of all people that have been involved with them before and participate on one of their campaigns. 

As part of its college affordability campaign, Craig said NCPIRG has focused on textbook availability — an issue that she said has been heightened as classes are online and some students are without their textbooks.

“One of the things that we’ve been working on for a long time is using open textbooks, which are free to access and still high-quality materials. It’s something that I think is even more relevant to a lot of people given this moment that we’re in.”

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