Editor’s note: This is the third installment in “Unveiling UT,” a series in which The Horn spotlights the organizations which make the UT community unique. The third organization we will feature is University Democrats. You can read the other installments in the series here and here. This interview took place on Thursday, October 20th, at the Perry-Castañeda Library, and has been edited for length and clarity.
Amber: Can you start by introducing yourself to our readers? Who are you, what organization do you represent and what is your position in this organization?
Raikolf: Yeah. My name is Raikolf Lopez. I’m a senior government sociology major. I’m here with the University Democrats,and I am the president.
Amber: What does your organization hope to accomplish on campus?
Raikolf: We try to make sure that people are civilly engaged as much as possible. We do a lot of voter registration. From the day before class started until the last day to register to vote, we were out there registering every Monday, Wednesday and Friday; every other week, we were trying to do Tuesdays and Thursdays too. We were able to register over 3,000 people in that period of time and now we are trying to get people to go and vote. We have a list of suggested candidates but we always tell people where they can get information about all the candidates so they can do their own research too. We try to make sure that people are as [civically] engaged as possible, while working with candidates that we believe will speak more for the student voices since,generally, they’re a group of people that aren’t heard by the politicians as much.
Amber: Why do you think civil engagement is important?
Raikolf: I think a lot of the issues we face in society are issues that were created by people who won’t be affected by them at least, not as much as we, as college students, will be. Our voices aren’t heard as much and we don’t go out and vote as much as we should. If we really do want change, and we do want these issues fixed that I hear a lot of students complain about, we need to go out there and vote for people that actually are listening to us and actually will solve these problems.
Amber: How often does your organization meet and what happens during your meetings?
Raikolf: We meet weekly on every Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Room 2016, Burdine Hall. We generally have a speaker. Someone in local politics comes and tells us what they do in their position, why their position is important, and stuff like that. It’s just so people are more knowledgeable of what’s happening in local politics. We also have socials. We try to do one every month or maybe every two weeks. Things like that, is where we generally meet most often.
Amber: Can you list some examples of speakers you’ve had at your club?
Raikolf: Yeah. We just had State Representative Gina Hinojosa. We had the statewide candidate Janet Dudding last night. We invited all the mayoral candidates to come and speak. Those are some examples I can think of off the top of my head right now.
Amber: Does your club promote specific political values? If so, which ones?
Raikolf: Yeah. We are the Democratic club on campus. So our values are generally based around the party, but we also have people who are more conservative Democrats and people who are more leftist. We call ourselves progressives, but like I said, our members are all over the political spectrum.
Amber: What is it like having members who have a variety of political views at your club?
Raikolf: Our members are generally civil to each other. We generally do consider each other friends. Beyond the meetings, there are discussions about different policies that we might disagree on. That does happen. We talk about politicians where we might agree that one politician is doing something wrong or something right.
Amber: Is the upcoming 2022 Texas Gubernatorial election impacting your organization in any way.
Raikolf: Yeah. I would say that the energy around this race has made a lot of people want to get more politically involved so it has allowed our org to grow. It has also helped us when we’re looking for volunteers to register voters. More people are more likely to do that.
Amber: What is the most challenging aspect of running a club like University Democrats and what is the most rewarding?
Raikolf: Challenge wise, as president, I am in charge of setting up all the meetings. I’m in charge of getting the speakers ready. I’m in charge of leading the org, making sure our officers are doing their jobs, and setting schedules for what we want to do, how we want to do it, and working with our officers to do it. The most challenging part is I do a lot of the administrative stuff in the background. When I ran, it was described to me as a full time job. I thought it was a joke. It’s not. When you have to work with everyone and interact with a lot of people all at once, 30 minutes here and 10 minutes there, that all adds up. The most rewarding– I like seeing our work leading to something. The last day we registered voters, we were out there from 9 a.m. to midnight. Then, at the end of the night, we counted it all and we had 1,000 people registered just that day. Stuff like that is rewarding and it makes all the work that we do just worth it in my opinion.
Amber: Do you think students hold any misconceptions about University Democrats?
Raikolf: I’ve seen people, especially more on the left, think that we’re too conservative for them and then I’ve seen people on the right see us as too far left. I think just having the name Democrats– we’re branded as though we’re supportive of whatever the Democratic Party is doing at any time. But we, as students, generally disagree with the party a lot. We think the party should do different things. We’re not a reflection of what the party is doing. We’re a reflection of what students think the party should be doing and where it should be going.
Amber: Where do you see University Democrats in the next five years?
Raikolf: I hope it continues to grow. I hope that we continue to help make sure as many students as possible are registered to vote and they know where to vote. I hope that we continue to hold the values and continue to fight for what we believe students need and I hope that in five years, a lot of our little traditional things that we like doing continue to happen. But my biggest hope is that University Democrats continues to be a safe place for students to share their political beliefs and to grow as much as possible.
Amber: Where can students find more information about University Democrats?
Raikolf: We have a website. Probably not the best place to get our information but generally you can keep track of our Twitter and Instagram where we post most of our information. And if you really want to get more involved you can join our Slack channel. It’s on our Instagram.
Amber: Is there anything else you would like students to know about University Democrats?
Raikolf: If you’re looking for some way to get involved as much as possible, University Democrats is a great place. Just show up to any of our meetings in Room 216, Burdine Hall at 8 p.m. and just see if you like it or not.
Amber: Thank you for your time.