Holding on to principles, even after defeat

The sparks that ignite a passion often come at an early age. Although they may not be fully realized at first, that initial interest can be developed at just the right time later on in life. If any of those sparks have political significance, a college campus is the perfect place to let the flames of civic engagement grow higher.

Like many college students entering their freshman year, Christopher Drake, current president of NKU’s College Democrats, was unsure of the direction he wanted to pursue. After initially declaring a major in biology, Drake soon found out that his lack of enthusiasm for chemistry would eventually take its toll.

Faced with the tough decision to get into a program that better suited his interests, Drake found inspiration in an early childhood memory. Recalling the times he spent at a friend’s house watching the 2000 Presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore as well as the politically-charged conversations he heard in car rides home from school. Drake decided that he wanted to get a better understanding of all the things he was hearing.

“So I looked into it more and started to fight them, because we rode home every day together,” Drake recalled. Feeling as though many of the arguments he was hearing were not only asinine but also contradictory, Drake was propelled to look further into these issues and come up with answers of his own.

When asked what drove him to a path of questioning rather than acceptance, Drake said, “Honestly… logic.” And this desire for sense-making didn’t just come up in the political realm for him, either. It was a push that helped Drake delve deeper into his religious affiliation as an active Episcopalian as well.

“My thing is I find the biggest contradiction in religion and Republicanism because I don’t feel that’s the true way that Christ-like followers would respond,” Drake said. “That just seems like a gigantic walking contradiction to me.”

So with a newfound identity forming and ready to grow, Drake found an answer to his need for direction. Ultimately choosing a major in political science, Drake later recalled, “You know what? I feel strongly about these things. I still have no idea what I can do with it or what I want to do with it, but I know that I like it enough that I can be happy with this major.”

It was around this time that Drake decided to take these personal convictions into the public arena — and the decision could not have come at a better time. The College Democrats organization on NKU’s campus was not even around by the time Drake was interested in joining, let alone active.

It was during the spring semester of 2013 when fellow political science major, Elizabeth Mayberry, had revived the College Democrats and started anew. Drake quickly joined and soon became secretary for the group. After Mayberry had graduated and left to pursue a career, Drake was able to secure the position of president for himself and take the group’s presence one step further. But it wasn’t a move Drake made solely for personal gain — his next step was to engage his fellow students and understand their mindset.

“I understand that people are generally disinterested [in politics] because it is very partisan,” Drake said. “But the only way to fix that type of situation is from the inside. You have to make sure that the people who are in office are going to be the ones who change that.”

One important aspect of Drake’s political advocacy at NKU is the fact that he is not involved with Student Government Association while a substantial number of students from both College Democrats and Republicans are.

Citing a lack of interest in the “pageantry and fanfare” of SGA, Drake said that he prefers to “work behind the scenes.”

“I never really think of myself as somebody who wants any sort of spotlight,” Drake said. “I like to be the think-tank.”

So with that extra time to devote to a different cause, Drake found himself diving headfirst into the Alison Grimes campaign against incumbent Ky. Senator, Mitch McConnell.

“I think working on a campaign really opens your eyes to the groundwork,” Drake said. “It’s the grass roots thing.”

Describing the experience as one of the first times he’d felt especially “fired up” over political issues, Drake was very compelled by Grimes’ persistence to ensure equal pay for women in the workforce as well as women’s issues overall.

“I don’t understand inequality,” Drake commented in regards to the current economic setbacks facing professional women today. ”I’ll be more than happy to listen to people who have an opinion, but it still doesn’t mean it’s going to make sense.”

And although Grimes lost the election to McConnell, there was a small but significant victory for Drake even within the overall defeat. For Drake in particular, the most important part of the political process happens to be one of the simplest parts that many citizens often take for granted — exercising their right to vote.

“I think there’s too much history and too much bloodshed for people not to appreciate the fact that you have the opportunity to vote,” Drake said.
While there wasn’t any bloodshed necessary on NKU’s campus, Drake and an active crew of volunteers registered over 900 students to vote in the midterm 2014 election.

Drake described the feat as a “nearly impossible goal for a commuter campus in Northern Kentucky that’s generally apathetic [toward voting],” and went on further to say it was “by far the biggest success story.”

“It was one of the most astonishing things College Democrats has ever accomplished,” Drake said. “I’m so happy that people get involved and there not even a part of this group.”

Besides the quantitative measurements of the group’s success, Drake has also pushed himself to see some qualitative changes as well. In order to maintain a healthy presence with all students on NKU’s campus — especially those on the other side of the political spectrum — Drake has extended a welcoming hand to NKU’s College Republicans and their President Patrick Reagan.

”Me and Patrick will harass each other every once in a while about something – it’s a pretty civil civic relationship,” Drake said. “Everyone who’s in College Republicans that I know is fantastic; I think they’re extremely nice people. I have no problem just chatting with them about anything.”

So, along with his dedication to student outreach for political causes and a personal desire to take the first step toward direct action, Drake still holds onto his core principles that drew him to civic engagement in the first place.

“Be the change, do it yourself. Don’t complain about it if you’re not willing to do anything about it,” Drake advised. “I like to keep it optimistic so that everyone can work together. You’ve just got to find your common ground.”