This year, the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) offered the chance of a lifetime, sending twenty GU Politics Convention Ambassadors to attend either the Republican National Convention (RNC) or the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Among the lucky Hoyas were three students in the School of Foreign Service–Gabriela Barrera (SFS’19), Reed Howard (SFS’17), and Sahil Nair (SFS’19). Barrera and Howard participated in the RNC in Cleveland from July 18-21. A week later, Nair traveled to Philadelphia to watch Hillary Clinton become the first female presidential nominee at the DNC.
An Unconventional Convention: RNC 2016
Gabriela Barrera’s passion for politics dates back to the historic 2008 campaign season. On a whim, Barrera and her mother attended a Hillary Clinton rally in Hemisfair Park in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas “climbing a fence just to see the distant, pant-suited figure on the rally stage,” she recalls. “That evening I was inspired. For the first time, I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Hillary Clinton showed me on that late summer evening, that no matter who you were or what background you came from, you had a voice.”
Today, Barrera relishes each day spent in the city where “the nation was (and is being) built.” She looks to pursue a major in International Politics and aspires to someday travel the world as a Foreign Service Officer. She emphasizes her belief in spreading American values abroad through diplomacy and achieving true equality between different communities within the U.S.
Barrera is still hoping for Hillary Clinton to become the first “Madam President” in American history. A devoted Democrat, she approached the RNC as an academic experience–an opportunity to learn more about the Republican Party and its future. “I was curious to know if the event would help me answer a question of personal priorities: what was more important, party unity and a strong front, or embracing political dissent in all its forms in hopes of a more inclusive democracy?”
SFS rising senior Reed Howard also attended the Republican Convention with Barrera. “I wanted to see the fight for the soul of the Republican party unfold in the convention hall,” he explains when asked about his decision to travel to the RNC in Cleveland. It does not take long to realize that the two students traveled to Cleveland with vastly different motives.
As a Republican, Howard firmly believes in the principles and policies of conservatism. Unconvinced that the Republican Nominee Donald Trump is a true conservative, Howard explains, “He certainly does not put forth the type of small government philosophy that I wish to see in a candidate.” Howard also admits that he was holding out hope for the possibility of a contested convention up until the Rules Committee passed their final vote on binding the delegates just days before the convention began. Even after his experience in Cleveland, Howard remains #NeverTrump. “Like many young conservatives, I feel like I have no good choices in this election.”
Howard remembers choosing Georgetown because of its motto: “Men and women for others.” “This refreshingly calls us to go into the arena of global affairs with a servant’s heart,” he explains. It was this purpose-driven education and location in the nation’s capital, which sealed the deal for Howard.
The SFS student is pursuing a major in Culture and Politics with a concentration in Education in the Developing World. He credits Madeline Albright’s class for giving him an enhanced perspective on the challenges facing America’s national security decision makers. Howard feels most strongly about the topic of education, emphasizing the need for training innovative doctors, scientists, and entrepreneurs–a process that begins in kindergarten classrooms. “The most important issue for America’s future is developing an education system that leaves no one in the dark.”
Reflecting on his past three years at Georgetown, Howard notes that being a Republican at a liberal school has taught him the importance of respecting all viewpoints. “It’s given me the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. The late night common room conversations, Facebook posts, and campus speakers have forced me to take a long look at why I believe what I believe.”
While in Cleveland, Barrera and Howard spent their mornings at events hosted by POLITICO, including a panel on the millennial vote, digital campaigning, and the future of the Republican Party. Additionally, they attended parties hosted by the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and other media outlets.
The ten Convention Ambassadors got the chance to meet fellow Hoya Eric Trump. Howard notes that it was fantastic to hear the perspective of the nominee’s family member. In a scenario that Barrera describes as “laughable,” the team posed with Eric in front of a “Hoyas for Trump” sign. While en route to the Convention, Barrera had realized that no one on the GU Politics team was Pro-Trump. She was happy to learn that the other convention-goers hoped for an intellectual revival of conservatism, “promoting values such as small government, Constitutionalism, and economic policy, as well as embracing diversity and condemning any form of bigotry.”
“The energy on the floor of the convention was simply amazing,” Howard expresses. “Trump is a pretty polarizing guy. You either like him or you hate him. This clash of opinions led to a spirited chaos that lasted from the first night of the convention until the last.” Meanwhile, Barrera was taken aback by what she describes as a “mob-like” atmosphere, particularly when Governor Chris Christie “essentially held an onstage trial for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as the crowd chanted ‘Lock her up.’”
“One of my favorite moments of the convention was when Ted Cruz told the audience to ‘vote your conscience,’” Howard recalls, “The stadium erupted in both cheers and boos; it was a clear display that not only has Trump failed to unite the party around him, but that there are folks in the party who actively oppose him.”
A Trip to the DNC
Upon arriving on the Hilltop, Sahil Nair (SFS’19) found the Science, Technology, and International Affairs major to be the perfect fit for his competency in STEM fields and his passion for foreign affairs. Nair finds this interdisciplinary major to be relevant to many modern day issues, including nuclear security, environmental policy, and international development. The rising sophomore is especially vocal about the need to take action against Climate Change–“an issue that has been effectively ignored in this presidential campaign by one major party and is not considered to be a voting issue by the general electorate.”
Nair first became intrigued with the political scene after the 2004 Presidential Election. Though he knew little about the platforms of either candidates at the time, Sahil distinctly remembers “making a face at the TV when President Bush beat Kerry in the Electoral College.” Since his interest was piqued during elementary school, Nair has been a self-professed “politics geek.” During his freshman year in the nation’s capital, he had the opportunity to learn from political discussions with students from many different backgrounds with a variety of perspectives, “getting a complete picture and different visions for America, not a singular one.”
As a young Democrat, Nair feels strongly about the importance of restoring the American Dream. “We as Americans must tackle these injustices to preserve the path to success facilitated only by opportunity and hard work and shackled by no demographic or socioeconomic inhibitors,” Nair stresses. He relished the opportunity to attend the DNC and learn more about the primary system–”a crucial part of the election process which is shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding.”
While in Philadelphia, Nair attended panels led by the Washington Post, Politico, Bloomberg Politics, SAP, Harvard Institute of Politics, and The Atlantic, hearing from speakers such as David Axelrod, Chelsea Handler, Gov. Ed Rendell (PA), and Congressman Joe Kennedy. The team later had the opportunity for more in-depth discussion with figures including Gov. Martin O’Malley and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards.
Nair remembers the convention floor as “a charged-up space, full of passion and pride.” He was inspired by listening to an array of wonderful speakers, including President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. In his speech beginning, “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” President Bill Clinton completely captivated Nair. “Bill wove the purpose of Hillary’s life into the story of their marriage, and sold the entire convention on the person that Hillary is. What a legend.”
Election 2016 has forced Americans to reconsider their values and principles, as political unrest and disillusionment threatens the foundation of both parties. “I believe this election boils down to reestablishing the true vision and values of America,” Nair reflects, “An optimistic, hopeful, and tolerant nation where all men are created equal, where anyone can reach for the stars and has the opportunities for success through hard work, regardless of creed, color, religion, sexual orientation.”
Barrera found hope in “reaching across the aisle” through conversations with the other GU Politics Convention Ambassadors, in which she learned a lot about intellectual conservative values. “If others around the country can seek to do that as well, beginning at Georgetown with the convention ambassadors as the catalyst, I can be optimistic.”
After attending the RNC, Howard believes that whether the Republican Party survives or not, the future of conservatism in American politics is bright. “It is bright because the principles and policies conservatives stand for are good and right,” he emphasizes, “We must become a party that champions LGBT rights, climate change, as well as gender and racial equality while staying true to the principles of limited government and individual liberty that make America exceptional.
In a disillusioning moment in American politics, the efforts and willingness of these Georgetown students to learn from one another and engage in conversation radiates hope for a divided country.