by Owen DiDonna
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Baltimore area students, faculty and staff have formed a unique alliance that is busily registering hundreds of voters and rallying support for controversial issues.
The Baltimore Intercollegiate Alliance (BIA), based at the Maryland Institute College of Art, boasts of registering “around 200” voters and plan to get many more to sign up before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, officials said.
“MICA has its whole own voting committee, made up of students, faculty, and staff,” Maddie Wolf, 21, a founder of the alliance, said in a recent interview with The Baltimore Watchdog. “But other schools may not be as involved, so we try and use the BIA to help motivate students to vote.”
Alliance members have been actively registering voters on MICA’s campus and at various locations, such as St. John’s United Methodist Church on St. Paul Street. With the alliance being relatively new, Wolf described the voter registration efforts as the group’s first success.
The alliance, which lists around 300 members on its Facebook page, is aligned with leftist politics, without backing any particular party.
Wolf said she first had the idea for the alliance before the 2016 presidential election. When she reached out to Baltimore area colleges, Wolf said that she got the attention of Zoe Brown, 20, a student at Goucher College who eventually helped create the group.
“With a couple other Goucher students, I met [Wolf] in our library to hear about the idea and brainstorm how to kick it off,” said Brown.
The alliance had its first meeting in May 2017 at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffee House, a worker-owned social center. It was at this location on Cathedral Street that the framework for the BIA was created, Wolf said.
“We met there because [Red Emma’s] is in the leftist-political world,” she explained. “We thought that it would back us up in terms of everything we were asking people to be part of.”
In the early days of the alliance, members said that meetings consisted more of debates and discussions than direct action. However, as the group developed, means of taking action emerged.
“A lot of people [joined the organization], and we didn’t have any structure, so a lot of times we would just debate,” said Wolf. “Now we do have structure, so we can say ‘we’ve come to these conclusions. We have this manifesto. Now, we can get things done.’”
The alliance works with organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Working Families to help Baltimore students gain access to resources they might need, officials said.
“Part of what we’re doing is creating a pipeline of students that can be involved with these Baltimore organizations,” said Wolf.
In addition to registering new voters, the alliance is busily planning campaigns to advocate for a variety of social issues. One target is the idea of creating private police forces. In particular, the BIA wants to focus on Johns Hopkins University’s recent efforts to establish its own police force.
Along with fighting social injustice, the group set the goal to create a long-lasting network between students in the area, a network that officials said should last after graduation because of the principles that are voiced.
The BIA’s core values are outlined in its public manifesto:
“We stand for equity and empathy…,” states the BIA manifesto. “We fight against oppression and prejudice against all marginalized peoples…We aim to challenge oppressive powers…We use the tactics of building and sustaining relationships with community organizations…And we need students, faculty, staff, and allies to build the power and relationships necessary to reach these goals and live these values.”
As for whether or not groups like the BIA are successful, the consensus is mixed.
“If students are sufficiently feared on social issues, they can turn campus policy around,” said Richard Vatz, a professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Towson University. “Efforts to sustain increased voter registration can be successful if they are tethered to an important issue.”
Alliance members are optimistic and excited about the future.
“I am continually excited about the Baltimore Intercollegiate Alliance because of the prospects of connecting students across Baltimore,” said Brown. “That way, we can stand in a united front to advocate for or against relevant issues on our campuses and in the city of Baltimore.”