If you were on campus this semester, chances are you were contacted by a member of the Wesleyan Democrats, encouraging you to vote in the Middletown elections. We, as President and Vice President, would like to explain why the WesDems urged students to vote and why we feel that being engaged in politics is important for students, regardless of their political leanings.
One vote among millions is insignificant, say cynics. Many students choose not to vote because of an impression that politicians don’t care about them. However, this thinking is deeply flawed; by not voting, we are giving them a reason not to care. Telling ourselves that our actions don’t make a difference yields a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to a Tufts University study, voter turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds during the 2010 elections was 21.3 percent. This was the same election that allowed attacks on Planned Parenthood to occur. While this and other regressive policies outraged students across the nation, over 75 percent of students did not voice their opinions where it mattered the most: at the polls. If we don’t participate in the electoral process, then we have no say in our political environment and the policies that come of it.
As much as raising awareness on a specific issue through activism is important, doing only that is not enough to implement the changes we seek. OccupyWallStreet, for example, has been incredibly successful in shifting the national dialogue on wealth inequality, bringing that critical issue to the table in an age of austerity. But our society is run by officials who represent those who put them in office. Take the civil rights movement, which transformed the attitude and perspective of a nation when it came to issues of equality but required an act of Congress and the signature of a president to obtain force of law. Today’s Congress won’t pass the kinds of meaningful reform that many students here would agree we need because today’s Congress doesn’t represent our views.
As it stands, students are not key players in most elections. However, it is those citizens who are politically engaged, a group that is currently skewed heavily towards the wealthiest members of society, who are able to reap benefits from our system. Many students are from states where recently-elected politicians are tearing away at the ideals for which so many of us have been fighting. If we wish to see effective, progressive change implemented, we must actually make it happen, and where we must unite is at the voting booth. We don’t think you should vote for a candidate based solely on partisan affiliation. However, for any progressive change to be meaningful, it must occur through participation rather than alienation. We believe the Democratic Party is the best vehicle for that.
Many progressives find themselves frustrated and disheartened in the age of Obama; this is hardly a new phenomenon, and WesDems are hardly exempt. We passionately support universal healthcare, a muscular regulatory mechanism for Wall Street, marriage equality, and the principle that a smart, active government can play a productive role in securing a just and prosperous America. When we see Washington straying from these ideals, we become impatient. But we must not allow this frustration to manifest as disenchantment, apathy, or resignation. We tried that in 2010, after feeling dissatisfied with the accomplishments of the most actively progressive Congress and president in decades. The far right took the opposite approach: mobilizing, energizing, and voting in record numbers. We got the Congress they voted for.
As people our age across the world are fighting and dying for the right to vote, we must not ignore the responsibilities of citizenship. And as we have learned, electing President Obama because of his message and his promise was a necessary but insufficient milestone in pursuit of the government we seek. Political engagement is a marathon, not a sprint. In WesDems, that is what we do: engage in the political process, not because we care just about the means of politics, but the ends as well. We hope that you will join us in continuing the work that must be done to see progress on the goals we share.