Illini Progressives discusses club’s purpose at first meeting


Michael Semaca

Illini Progressives President Richard Daniels (left, foreground) starts a sign-up sheet for one of the RSO’s subcommittees on Jan. 26, 2017.

By Michael Semaca, Staff Writer

Just as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to make chances in the political world, the former University club named after him is making strides on campus as the Illini Progressives.

The group held its first meeting since the name change Thursday night. Students originally created the RSO Illini for Bernie to help Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in his election bid. When Sanders lost the Democratic primary, members of Illini for Bernie decided the club would rebrand as Illini Progressives to promote Sanders’ ideals after the election.

“We made this group as an evolution of Illini for Bernie primarily because of what his movement started,” Illini Progressives’ President Richard Daniels, senior in FAA, said during the meeting. “He tapped into the young, excited, progressive phase of the Democratic party. Which probably has turned out to be the majority of the party now.”

The meeting acted as a dialogue between Daniels and the members of the organization to find out what specific goals they want to achieve. One thing Daniels made a top priority to the new members was to re-ignite the enthusiasm students displayed at the rally for Bernie Sanders that occurred in March 2016.

“What we need to do is harness that emotion, that passion, that we all have, and direct that to making a huge difference in our local communities, our state government and our national government,” he said.

Around 50 people attended the first meeting, including students, graduates and faculty members. Many students present were former active members of Illini for Bernie, like Jason Arendt, a junior in business who is now a member of Illini Progressives’ executive board.

Arendt suggested the group coordinate with local lawmakers like Urbana City Council Member Aaron Ammons. He called Ammons the most progressive member on the council, and said they had already begun coordinating with him.

“He’s spoken with us, he said he’d love to have us come to the Urbana city council meetings” Arendt said.

The group also stated their intent to influence politics on a state level as well. They mentioned the upcoming Democratic primary for the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial election as a great opportunity to influence the future of the state.

“That’s huge,” Daniels said. “And it starts with the primary. We gotta make sure to pressure the Democrats to run a real progressive (candidate), because they’re just going to keep losing if they keep running moderates. We saw that in this election cycle and we’ve been seeing it for years now.”

One of the core plans Daniels presented to the organization’s members was to work with other progressive groups on campus. These organizations could work together to implement their progressive agendas more effectively, he said.

Daniels said he, Arendt and the rest of the executive board have been communicating with these progressive groups to find projects they are both excited about. Arendt mentioned that the Dakota Access Pipeline is one of many issues the groups are passionate about.

The pipeline stalled in the last few months of President Obama’s term, but Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to resume the project. Arendt identified the pipeline as a fantastic way for new members to have a direct impact on the nation’s policies.

“DAPL ends in Patoka, Illinois, about two hours south-west of here,” Arendt said. “So it’s a very short drive.”

After the meeting, Daniels said he was incredibly happy with the attendance, and said he was excited to lead the organization in the next semester.

“It was an amazing turnout; to be honest I wasn’t expecting this many people,” he said. “I’m really optimistic about where this group is going to go, I’m optimistic about the people that came because they seem very motivated, and I’m optimistic about reaching out to different organizations and collaborating, further promoting our movement.”

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