Students pursue political passions, blue or red
On Beer Bike morning, while the rest of Rice was preparing to ingest liquid at high speeds, Duncan College sophomore Maurice Frediere was at the convention for Senate District 13 to elect delegates for each precinct within the district. There, Frediere ran unopposed to be the delegate for Precinct 361, the polling location in the Rice Memorial Center, at the Texas State Convention, setting himself on a path to attend the Democratic National Convention. But Frediere is far from the only Rice student to become an active participant in politics. In 2016, students engaged from the grassroots level up to the national level and on either side of party lines to make young people’s voices heard.
Next on the campaign trail for Frediere was the Texas State Convention in San Antonio from June 16 to June 18, where Frediere hoped to be elected by fellow District 13 delegates to represent the district at the Democratic National Convention. The number of Democratic delegate spots were allocated based on the proportion of Democratic votes received in the primary election. District 13, which is composed of the Third Ward, Montrose and Rice, had eight spots for Democrats. But for Frediere, the race was especially competitive, with nine opponents running for the three male spots to be delegates for Hillary Clinton. Because the DNC and state parties recommend delegations to be representative in terms of gender, age, sexual orientation, veteran status and disabled status, the elections were designed to have an equal number of male and female slots. Other demographic requirements were fulfilled through a designated number of at-large positions appointed by the campaigns.
Before the two-hour caucus to elect delegates, Frediere sent emails and handed out fliers to inform fellow delegates on what he could contribute to the party. Frediere stood out because he was both the only college student and the only person under 30 running so he could engage young voters.
Frediere’s campaign proved successful: From July 25 to July 28, he attended the DNC in Philadelphia supported by the Party Affairs Director of the Texas Democratic Party. He heard a speech by General John Allen, had a conversation with Congressman Joseph Kennedy, and snapped a picture with Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Frediere said his favorite moment arrived when President Barack Obama took the podium.
“Obama has been my president as long as I’ve cared about politics,” Frediere said. “He’s an incredible orator, he had a strong message and at the end of the speech Hillary came out and they embraced and held arms at the center of the stage and everyone went crazy.”
Frediere’s delegacy at the DNC was far from his first foray into politics. Last fall, Frediere interned for Sylvester Turner’s mayoral campaign, and this summer, he worked under Rice alumni Juliet Stipeche, the newly appointed Director of Education under the mayor’s administration. Frediere’s two main projects were the Hire Houston Youth Initiative, which connected 600 youths from low-income backgrounds with employers for summer jobs, and the Back to School Festival, which provided 25,000 low-income students with vaccines, backpacks and eye exams. Frediere is also the co-president of Rice Democrats.
Frediere believes his involvement in politics in politics is inspired by his competitive nature.
“When I was 12 I wanted to be a professional soccer player,” Frediere said. “But I turned out to not actually be that good of a soccer player, so I needed to channel that energy elsewhere and I think politics become the home for that competitive energy that I have.”
But Frediere’s political participation also has a personal note.
“When I was really young I had a series of really important surgeries because I was born with a birth defect,” Frediere said. “For a lot of kids, the Children’s Health Program saves lives and that was an initiative that [Clinton] passed and seven million kids were insured.”
Frediere said he chose to support Clinton because he believes competency and capability are the most important qualities in a presidential candidate.
“Ideologically I fall somewhere between Clinton and Bernie on a lot of issues,” Frediere said. “But I think more important than someone being ideologically perfect is that they be a good president. I don’t view the presidency as an ideological position. I view congress as a place where ideology is important.”
This year, Frediere will continue his political involvement by working on Jason Kander’s campaign for one of Missouri’s seats in the United States Senate and registering 500 new voters by election day.
“I believe in the power of politics as a means to effect change and improve people’s lives,” Frediere said.
When Gary Dreyer applied online to intern for John Culberson, the Republican Congressman representing the 7th District of Texas, he thought both his lack of connections and rising sophomore status would work against him. But then, he received an interview followed by an offer to spend June on Capitol Hill.
According to Dreyer, a Hanszen College sophomore, a day in the life of an intern depended on whether Congress was in session. On an in-session day, Dreyer said, Congress was a madhouse and phones rang off the hook. Dreyer would receive the most phone calls the day House Democrats staged a sit-in over gun control.
“I remember the frenzy of that day very well,” Dreyer said. “I think I had 45 calls from constituents in one afternoon, so it was just nonstop.”
Dreyer also attended briefings, conducted research on political positions and wrote recognitions of achievements for the congressional record known as congressional commendations. Because Rice was under Congressman Culberson's representation before the 2011 congressional redistricting, Dreyer wrote the congressional commendation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to two Rice professors, along with a professor from the University of Sussex. The professors received the prize for the discovery of buckminsterfullerenes, also known as Buckyballs, which are molecules composed of carbon atoms bound in the shape of a ball.
Back at Rice, Dreyer will serve as the Precinct Chair with the Harris County Republican Party, making him the youngest currently serving precinct chair in the county. As chair, Dreyer’s job is to connect campus Republicans with the county GOP.
Dreyer attributes his Republican beliefs to reading books spanning from biographies on Margaret Thatcher to novels by Ayn Rand as well as his family’s experiences.
“I would call myself a Republican both by choice but definitely by upbringing as well,” Dreyer said.
Dreyer supported Marco Rubio in the primary election and now sees Gary Johnson, the libertarian nominee, as the candidate who comes closest to mainstream Republican values.
“My politics come down to what policies create the freest people and the freest markets,” Dreyer said. “I don’t see either of the two major party nominees being able to achieve that whatsoever.”
Free speech is also of the utmost importance to Dreyer and he feels that, although Rice is a liberal campus, it is more open to libertarian conservative views than many peer institutions.
“As long as we have that respect and that ability to have that discourse and we learn from one another,” Dreyer said, “I think that is a beautiful thing.”
Anita Kapyur combined her pre-medical intentions and passion for politics during her summer on Capitol Hill. Kapyur, a Duncan College senior, interned in the office of Congressman Ami Bera, the Democratic Congressman representing California’s 7th Congressional District. Bera is one of only 19 physicians in Congress and the only currently serving Indian American congressman.
“I think promoting diversity on the Hill is super important,” Kapyur said. “Because one Indian out of 435 [congressmen] is pretty sad.”
Kapyur’s most memorable moment occurred in the aftermath of Paul Ryan posting a selfie with Republican House Interns which was criticized for its lack of diversity and sparked the hashtag “Interns so white.” In response, Democratic House interns congregated at the Capitol building for their own selfie.
“There was a lot more diversity in the picture,” Kapyur said. “And so that went viral. It was picked up by CNN, Politico, the Hill, Washington Post. And just to be a part of that picture that was so highly discussed — there was a tweet that I was in that had 3,000 retweets — it was so cool.”
Kapyur said she also wrote talking points for Congressman Bera on policy issues which he presented while Congress was in session.
“It was an experience to mimic someone’s voice and policy platform and have so much power,” Kapyur said.
In the upcoming election, Kapyur will support Hillary Clinton because she feels Clinton’s policies including health care policy are the most economically feasible. Kapyur said current health care policies are failing due to the lack of people educated in both health care and policy.
“If more physicians were involved in Obamacare and health care policy, we would have more of an efficient health care system,” Kapyur said.
Kapyur plans to graduate a semester early and return to D.C. in spring 2017 to work in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. This year she will also apply to medical school.
“My science background is something I can capitalize on,” Kapyur, a kinesiology and policy studies double major, said. “Almost everyone is a political science major. There is a huge need for people who do both.”
When Alex Amari, a Jones College junior, decided he wanted to become involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign he searched the Internet, signing up on College Students for Bernie Sanders to connect with students interested in organizing a Rice chapter. A few days later, Amari discovered he was the only Rice student to sign up and became the president of the Rice Chapter of College Students for Bernie Sanders. As president, Amari represented Bernie Sanders at the Johnson-Rayburn-Richards Dinner, the Harris County Democratic Party’s main fundraising event, and organized events for students on campus.
Amari said he supported the Sanders campaign due to the focus placed on issues such as student debt and wealth inequality.
“When I think about my own life I feel like these domestic issues are more ubiquitous and pressing in the grand scheme of things than these headline threats,” Amari said.
Amari is now a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton and published an article in the Hill urging fellow Sander’s supporters to back Clinton. He said the winner of the upcoming election is important because he or she will decide on issues such as who will fill the empty Supreme Court seat on the split court, issues that could impact the United States for decades.
“For a young progressive to not vote in November or vote for Donald Trump is the ultimate affront to everything Bernie stood for,” Amari said.
Amari said he enjoyed reading the comments on his article the next day.
“I’d never been chewed up that hard on the Internet by hundreds of people at one time,” Amari said. “But I expected that.”
For Amari, the most fascinating aspect of politics is political theory. This year, Amari will study abroad at the University of Oxford as part of his interdisciplinary major of philosophy, politics and economics.
Amari cited the story of Cincinnatus, where a man became dictator of Rome for two weeks and returns to his farm after defeating rival tribes, as the epitome of political leadership.
“A true leader doesn’t feel the need to place their name everywhere in huge letters,” Amari said.
But the main foundation of Amari’s politics is finding the policies that give the greatest opportunities to the most people.
“I believe in the beauty of the United States Constitution,” Amari said. “‘We the people,’ not ‘I the person.’”
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