Political activity is for every day, not every four years

by Beacon Staff • October 6, 2011

By: Sam Leska

At Emerson, we pride ourselves on being engaged and active. Students are directing movies, writing books, hosting radio shows, and organizing fashion shows — all while tweeting their way to thousands of Twitter followers.

One way that most Emerson students do not remain active is politically.  While I find it inspiring to be around a group of students that have an unbelievable amount of passion for what they do, I sometimes wonder if students understand the importance of being politically engaged.

In 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, I saw incredible political awareness and activity from students, but that excited and engaged student base seems to have dwindled.

This could be because media outlets choose to focus their attention on the one presidential election that happens every four years instead of focusing on the countless elections that happen in between. For example, in the 2008 Presidential election, 77 percent of registered voters cast their ballots. However, only 38 percent of registered voters in Boston voted in the local Mayoral and City Council elections a year later. It is easy to see how the amount of media attention can directly affect the voter turnout in a given election.

If we simply took the time to research this information, we would realize how simple it is to register to vote. It is a roughly 10 minute walk from Emerson to City Hall where it takes all of two minutes to fill out the registration form.

Even when students realize how easy it is to register to vote, there are many who choose not to vote because they are unaware of the little things their elected officials do every day to make their lives run smoothly. They make sure your trash is picked up, your streets and sidewalks are shoveled, and your apartments inspected to make sure your rental is clean and safe.

In fact, CityOfBoston.com has an entire section of their website dedicated to resources for students. So when students say their vote does not matter, they have to stop and think about what their quality of life would be like if our local elected officials no longer heard their voices.

Even as the co-president of Emerson College Democrats, I have not always understood the importance of voting — especially in local elections. But after spending a summer working for City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, I’ve realized the importance of voting in every election.

Now, I try to fulfill and carry out my civic duty through the work I do within my organization: from registering voters, to volunteering for political campaigns, to working for elected officials, to organizing students to become politically active. The members of Emerson Democrats do the same.

While our primary goal is to see that Democrats are elected to office, it is only a small portion of what we do as an organization to remain civically engaged. One of the biggest efforts we have this semester, which happens every fall, is registering voters on campus. We will set up camp outside the dining hall early on the weekends to register students at breakfast or go in pairs knocking on dorm room doors looking for people who are not yet registered

We put so much effort into this because registering to vote is the easiest way for students to become politically engaged in our democracy, and even more importantly because we want every student, regardless of party affiliation, to have their voice heard.

Voting is the most effective way of making sure those in power hear our voices. It is important to think of our elected officials like we would our employees. Say you asked your employee to hand in a report to you at the end of the week, and after two months the report was never even started. Would you sit around and say nothing, or would you fire him and actively search for a better employee? I would certainly choose the latter.

Your elected officials work in the same respect. If they are not actively working on your behalf to make your quality of life better, then it is your civic responsibility to research new potential candidates and fire the other one at the ballot box.

When you vote, you use your own unique experiences to make that decision. This could be based on your gender, your race, your age, your socioeconomic background, or countless other factors. If everyone were to vote there would be a diverse electorate making these decisions, which would in turn only help select the best employee for the job.

Every day at Emerson, I have the privilege of being around a diverse student body at Emerson made up of countless life experiences. As a student and as the co-president of Emerson Democrats, I want that entire student body weighing in on our elected officials from our president to our senators to our city councilors.

So I am going to take this time to call the student body to action. Emerson Democrats will be knocking on your dorm room doors and sitting at tables outside your dining hall. When we ask you to register to vote, I challenge you to take action by saying “yes.”

emSamm Leska is a senior writing, literature, and publishing major and the co-president of Emerson Democrats. Leska can be reached at samantha_leska@emerson.edu/em