By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–IU Southeast students voiced their hopes, concerns and intentions in the first Why Voting Matters to Me forum on Monday evening.
Organized and facilitated by Dr. Margot Morgan, assistant professor of political science, the event featured opinions from across the current political spectrum, offering strongly felt and intensely personal perspectives on voting.
Those expecting a WWF smackdown for policy wonks would have been disappointed–the panel statements and following discussion unfolded as an exercise in mutual respect that gave cause for optimism about the ability of younger voters in particular to overcome the bellicosity so prevalent in the current political discourse.
In compelling personal testimonials, the student panelists brought politics down to the local level, and beyond, right into the home, or in some cases, into the homeless shelters.
Dannon Olsen, a junior majoring in political science, revealed a childhood spent in poverty following the Great Recession of 2008.
“95% of my childhood meals came from the government,” said Olsen, who experienced frequent school and residential relocations, as well as time in homelessness.
For Olsen, for whom the political issue of food stamps meant the difference between eating and not eating, politics is highly personal.
As a member of the LGBTQ community and the descendant of survivors of Nazi Germany, Kameo Costello, a sophomore majoring in political science, is highly sensitive to ongoing discrimination against minorities in authoritarian states around the world, and wary of similar trends in the U.S., trends that can be either fostered or rebuffed through voting.
For Shiane Noel, a freshman double-majoring in political science and international relations who is the children of black immigrants, voting matters because it is the way to attack injustice, much of which has its origins in race.
“Voting matters to me because Breonna Taylor matters to me,” Noel said.
Amelia Fair, a junior majoring in political science, brought a different immigrant perspective, her father coming to the United States as a refugee from Castro’s Cuba. For Fair, voting matters because government is determined by majority, not of the people, but of those who vote.
Though they disagreed on their preferences for party and candidates, the students strongly viewed voting as an essential element of political participation, citizenship, policies and lawmaking.
Thomas Kolanji, a junior majoring in international studies, came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Having grown up under the dictatorship of President Mobutu Sese Seko, Kolanji shared harrowing examples of political life in the absence of free and fair elections. He went on record to urge the American students to “take advantage of voting, a great privilege that many others do not have.”
Andrew Panozzo, a senior majoring in political science, was not the only member of the group to voice doubts that the electoral system as currently constituted can deliver the larger economic changes that voters are often looking for, a sentiment echoed by Logan Dailey.
Citing as examples the rise of Julius Caesar and Adolf Hitler, Dailey expressed concern about populism fueled by economic disparity and anger, and the way in which it can weaken or destroy democratic processes like voting itself.
For the participants in this forum, the right to vote is many things. It is a way to express one’s individual identity, a lever to enact policies that one favors, a way to influence government at the local level, a tool to defend constitutional freedoms, a means to unleash economic enterprise.
Most of all, it is precious and fragile, and can be best protected by being exercised.
“If we don’t use it, we could lose it,” said Dr. Gloria Murray, interim director of the Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement.
Keziah Jones, a freshman majoring in nursing, joined the discussion to observe that each vote counts, and thus makes a difference in the lives of all Americans.
Morgan closed the forum with a reminder that the last day to register for the 2020 election is October 5.
Homepage image by amberzen from Pixabay.