Northeastern students’ energy behind Markey in Senate primary race

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Alex M

Sen. Ed Markey speaks at Northeastern in 2017 for the opening of ISEC.

Isaac Stephens, news staff

The Democratic Senate primary race between incumbent Sen. Edward J. Markey and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III is intensifying as the two Democrats near the Sept. 1 election, and by many accounts, it is too close to call. At Northeastern, however, it’s clear the loudest cheers are coming from students organizing for Markey.

Markey, a 74-year-old senator best known for his co-authorship of the Green New Deal, was elected to the Senate in 2013. Kennedy was elected in 2012 to represent Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District and is now in his fourth term in the House of Representatives.

Two recent polls of the race show Markey pulling ahead, though Kennedy previously held a consistent lead since he joined the primary campaign last September.

Joshua Sisman, an active senator in Northeastern’s Student Government Association and communications director for Northeastern’s chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America, or YDSA, said the choice between Markey and Kennedy was always an easy one for him.

“We have someone who’s already proven themselves to be a strong advocate for the working people,” Sisman, a second-year political science and economics major, said of Markey. “[Kennedy] still hasn’t given a good reason as to why he’s running other than ‘generational change,’ but I feel like even the ‘generational change’ talking point is very BS because he’s a Kennedy.”

Kennedy is a grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy.

Even a cursory glance at Northeastern’s most prominent left-leaning student groups shows broad agreement among their members. Campus chapters for both YDSA and the Sunrise Movement vocally support Markey’s reelection. Sisman also said members of the Northeastern University College Democrats, or NUCD, for which he also does communications work, largely support Markey as well, although he stressed that the organization cannot take an explicit stance in Democratic primaries. 

The News interviewed Sisman, other Markey organizers and three Kennedy supporters, and none said they were aware of a campus group that supports Kennedy’s candidacy.

Sisman said he thinks Markey’s popularity among the university’s political student groups may be attributed to successful organizing by Northeastern YDSA, formerly Huskies for Bernie, and Northeastern for Warren. Many of their previously uninvolved members, mostly progressives, joined NUCD and stayed with the group even after this year’s primary season ended.

Regardless of the reason for the support, Sisman and other campus leaders have been quick to capitalize on the extra involvement. 

Karl Adrianza, a third-year psychology and American Sign Language major who runs Sunrise Northeastern’s electoral team, said he’s coordinated with the Markey campaign and YDSA to organize virtual phone banking events each Thursday since early July. Sisman said YDSA had been hosting Markey phone banks independently for about a month before the groups joined forces.

Sisman said the phone bank events typically attract between five and eight people each week to make calls for about two hours each, and he said he expects that number to increase as the Sept. 1 election grows closer. Adrianza said he’s optimistic because there’s already a “culture of supporting” Markey at Sunrise Northeastern that inclines students to help out.

“It’s really easy to talk to people who are passionate about [Markey] and get them to come to his events, which is great, because as a [Sunrise Movement] hub, we realize how important it is that he stays in the Senate,” Adrianza said.

Julian Morgen, a second-year industrial engineering major who supports Kennedy, said he’s worried Markey supporters are focusing too much effort on voters who are already in favor of progressive policies. He said he thinks Kennedy could use his youth and name recognition to expand progressives’ reach, particularly by continuing to lend his fundraising clout to down-ballot campaigns nationwide.

“The Kennedy name, combined with his understanding that you need to go other places to both advocate for your state and then to advocate for Democrats everywhere to ensure that we hold our seats — that’s something that I really value in a candidate,” Morgen said. 

Some have criticized Kennedy for changing his position on certain issues, such as by selling his family’s $1.75 million in fossil fuel stocks after criticism and pivoting away from previous anti-marijuana statements. Morgen, however, said he sees this as a sign Kennedy is responsive to his voters’ preferences. He added the caveat that, since he’s registered to vote in Pennsylvania, he won’t be able to vote in Massachusetts elections this year.

Shelby McIntosh, a third-year political science and international affairs major, said she joined the Kennedy campaign as a volunteer this summer after seeing his community outreach efforts, which she feels distinguish him from Markey. She pointed to Kennedy’s use of fluent Spanish to communicate with constituents as a major reason for her support, though she said she isn’t a native Spanish speaker herself.

While Markey organizers at Northeastern are trying to expand their base — Adrianza said Sunrise and YDSA phone banks have generally focused on older voters in Roxbury and the South End — their presence on social media hasn’t slowed down, either.

Emerson Toomey, a third-year philosophy major and co-founder of @edsreplyguys, a Twitter account focused on spreading Markey positivity (and memes), said she’s been delighted to see a circle of pro-Markey accounts grow over the past few months, creating a community that is now dubbed the “Markeyverse.” Toomey said she’s proud of how much the group’s collective digital presence has been able to accomplish.

“The other day, they got a hashtag to trend in like half an hour statewide, which is really cool,” Toomey said, referring both to #Markeyverse and #StickingWithEd. ‘That’s not something that’s very normal, especially for a political campaign.”

The Markey community seems to have successfully captured the attention of Northeastern students as well. A Facebook post in NEU Polls, a private group with more than 4,000 members, asked students “Massachusetts Election, who vote for?,” and Markey won 247 to 3; a Twitter poll posted by NUCD in late July shows Markey winning 496 to 60 among respondents. However, social media polls can be unrepresentative of voting populations as a whole.

A professionally conducted poll in Massachusetts shows voters younger than 35 including undecided “leaners” favor Markey 52 percentage points to 30, which is a wide margin, but a far cry from 247 to 3. 

Adrianza said he thinks it’s important for students to remember to advocate for progressives outside of social media echo chambers. Markey memes won’t reach everyone, and there isn’t much time left for organizers to work: Mail-in voters’ ballots need to arrive at election offices by 8 p.m. on Sep. 1 to be counted for the primary. He said he wants Markey supporters to reach out to their family and friends directly to get them on board.

“It’s one thing to have that conversation on the phone with a stranger and then [another] with somebody you know in real life, where you can actually connect with them and talk to them about what matters,” Adrianza said. “It feels more personal, it’s more normal.”