Student urges others to "Swing Left"

Sophomore Holly Newman saw a need and launched her own club at Brandeis

a large group of smiling students around three long tables in a classroom

Swing Left turned the most recent Democratic debate into a fun and engaging evening.

If you attended the Fall 2019 Involvement Fair, you saw the Great Lawn in all its glory swarmed with students, tables, and banners. Brandeisians scurried from club to club in a scramble to sign up for as many email lists as they could while also scoring as many free stickers, pens, and Starburst candies as they could grab. 

Every year the Involvement Fair gets students out of their dorm rooms and into the sun with hopes of finding a group on campus that shares their interests. But this year, one student skipped the club fair to fry a bigger fish. At a university with more than 250 different student organizations, Holly Newman is starting her own.
Holly Newman '22, in a yellow t-shirt with a blue "swing left" bumpersticker, standing in front of an ivy-covered brick wall

Holly Newman Holly Newman ‘22 chatted with me about how she launched her own student organization

This semester sophomore Holly Newman is a College Fellow for Swing Left, a grassroots organization created to help people find “low-effort, high-impact” ways to get involved in progressive politics. The group focuses on engaging individuals in community volunteer opportunities such as phone banking, attending rallies, and registering people to vote. Each semester, Swing Left’s college fellowship program selects around eighty students to carry out their mission on campuses across the country.

One of the most intimidating aspects of starting a student organization is the fact that nobody knows about you at first. The idea of starting a Swing Left branch initially made Holly nervous because unlike some schools that have multiple College Fellows, here at Brandeis she is on her own. Holly worried that starting the organization by herself would make it difficult to have an impact. “When I’m spiraling I’m like, ‘No one’s ever going to sign up and I’m going to be a failure!’ But people are actually very interested.” Undeterred by her initial worries, she has so far been very successful in reaching out to people. Although she doesn’t yet have a team she can delegate to, she is learning so much from the process. “I never understood how many things you could have in your head at the same time!” 

On top of starting the organization on her own, Holly also has to deal with the challenges that come with Swing Left not being an official club. Unless she becomes a club, she won’t receive funding from the student activities budget or host outside speakers. However, Holly has found the silver lining to this catch.

By working outside the traditional club structure, Holly is keeping the club very personal. We are all too familiar with the phenomenon of signing up for a club’s email list and then never attending a single meeting, so Holly is deliberately stepping away from that dynamic. Since Swing Left isn’t an official club, Holly herself keeps in contact with her volunteers and prospective members, which she admits is a lot of work. When asked why she decided to sacrifice the convenience of a group chat she reiterated, “I think that it’s better to connect with people individually. I really want it to be very personal.”
A group of a dozen students sits at round metal tables outside the Shapiro Campus Center

Swing Left's kickoff brunch had an impressive turnout for a brand-new student organization

Swing Left has already hosted its first three events. Its first event was a kickoff brunch where Holly shared her vision for the organization and talked about what she has planned for the semester. On September 12th, Swing Left hosted a debate watch party in The Village TV lounge which was a great success. Almost thirty students congregated to watch the debate, eat snacks, and play Debate Bingo. Next, Holly planned a week-long tabling event for National Voter Registration Day. Swing Left registered students to vote using an app called Voter Pal that scans driver’s licenses and fills out the registration form in seconds.

Although running Swing Left comes with lots of responsibility, Holly doesn’t see herself as the group’s sovereign leader. As her volunteer team begins to get more involved, Holly hopes to step back and give others leadership roles. “It’s not just me telling everyone what to do. It’s also me empowering people to become leaders in their own respect.” 

Swing Left has also helped Holly get to know the Brandeis community better. Last year as a first-year she felt like her social circle was very narrow. Now, Holly is challenged to connect with and talk to people on campus that she doesn’t know. She remarked on how spearheading Swing Left has changed the way she thinks about everything, “It’s not just about me, it’s about this organization and this mission and how I can get people involved.”

I joined Brandeis as a midyear last spring, so I know what it’s like to be thrown into a new environment and struggle to find your place. With hundreds of existing clubs where there is surely something for everyone, perhaps the bravest thing you can do is create a space of your own. I asked Holly if she has any advice for students who want to start their own organization. “Start by talking to your friends. And then talk to your friends’ friends.” Along with being able to sweet-talk your friends into coming to events, Holly pointed out that they may know people you don’t, “And then bam, you have fifteen people signed up.” 

In terms of her goals for Swing Left, Holly simply hopes to see people become engaged. She wants people to understand that politics is about connecting with people and getting to know a community more than anything else. “I’m just really excited to be doing this and excited that I have the ability to get people involved. We should all recognize our individual power to make change.”

As we finished up our coffee and bagels, fellow student Maya Walborsky overheard us talking and approached our table. “Wait, how can I get involved in Swing Left?” she asked Holly. 

“Well, you can talk to me! Do you want to grab coffee soon and chat about it?”

Follow Swing Left on Instagram to learn about upcoming events: @swingleftbrandeis

Categories: Student Life

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