After the March: Where can students find their place in politics?

Illustration by Jessica Stein

Students and politicians weigh in on the importance of voting

The last year saw some of the largest protests in US history. Anti and pro-Trump marchers were eager to take to the streets following the election, and the 2017 Women’s March drew up to 4.6 million people in cities across the country, according to a researcher from the University of Connecticut. Most recently on Chapman’s campus, hundreds of students “walked out” to remember the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting.   

“I love a great protest,” said SGA vice president elect Arianna Ngnomire. “It’s one of the ways students can feel heard, deal effectively with trauma, and create change.”

Universities have long been at the helm of American activism. Vietnam protests at UC Berkeley and Kent State are remembered as pivotal moments in history, and recent protests and marches continue to demonstrate how students play a vital role in our democracy. But amidst all the marches, some students and officials agree posters and bullhorns can only go so far, and that voting is the best way to make your voice heard.

“Before I was in high school, I got to see all the protests on television and was really opened to a whole different aspect of protesting because of Martin Luther King Jr,” said Orange city councilman Michael Alvarez. “With the Peace Protests of the Vietnam war, they were coming out of the colleges. We’re seeing this coming out again and I think today, I’m really curious to see how effective these protests are going to be.”

Ngnomire said marching is an integral part of political movements, but it isn’t everything. “It’s what can we do now to make change,” she said. “Getting people to vote is a huge part of that.”

The most recent Student Government election resulted in the re-election of President Mitchell Rosenberg and the election of Ngnomire, an SGA newcomer, as vice president.

The amount of students who  voted increased by four percent from last year’s election, going from 22 to 26 percent.  

“More students felt that their vote mattered this time,” she  said. “The candidates were different enough where it felt like a distinct enough choice.”

Rosenberg ran unopposed in last year’s election.

Although students like sophomore television writing and production major Livi Dom have noted that not many on campus can feel SGA’s affects, she was proud to take part in this year’s election.

“I wanted to vote in this particular election to support diversity in the SGA,” said sophomore TV writing and producing Livi Dom. “Voting has always been important to me.””

Ngnomire wasn’t the only one to say  this generation of college students has started to take more interest in local and national voting.

As students are eliciting change in our country’s politics, they can continue their work by interacting with each other and officials, protesting, writing to their representatives- but most importantly, by voting, said Dr. Art Blaser, a political science professor.

“The slogan ‘think globally, act locally’ is trite but also very important,” Blaser said, adding that student votes are most valuable in local elections.

“A big obstacle for candidates is trying to covet students to their side and to appeal to them,” said Orange Councilman Michael Alvarez. “Out of 140,000 citizens in Orange, only about 18,000 come out to vote in the midterm elections. Students will make up a portion of that number, especially if there is a hot topic on the ballot.”

According to United States Election Project, only 36 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2014 midterm elections- 13 percent of those voters were students.

With so much focus on presidential elections, it can be easy for students to forget about the midterms, said senior education major Alexa Abadee.

“People are disinterested in politics and are disillusioned because they don’t think they’ll be directly affected,” Abadee said. “They might even think that politics are too controversial to get involved.”

Illustration by Jessica Stein

Junior public relations major Jessica Stein furthered not only the importance of the student vote, but what she thinks is a necessity.

“I think it’s lazy of people who choose not to vote. It’s a disservice to your country not to. You have the power, whether or not you think it affects you,” Stein said. “It comes down to this- why wouldn’t you vote?”

The 2016 federal election saw the lowest voter turnout in two decades, but the college student voter count rose 3 percent from 2012, according to a 2017 study by Tufts University.

The study also found that college women were more likely to vote than their male counterpart and that the number of college students of color who voted dropped by ten percent.

The statistics beg the question- what is aiding to voter discrepancy? Why are some populations of students participating while others are not? Why are students showing up to protest but aren’t showing up to vote?

Ngnomire credits a lack of transparency aiding to voter discrepancy and a decrease in voters of color.

“When people stop believing in the system they’re voting in, it’s easier to ignore what’s going on,” she said. “At this point, many of us are numb to things that, in the past, would be considered a national scandal.”

Sharing her experiences of talking to students in Europe about “scandalous” politics while studying abroad, junior creative writing major Audrey Woodsum spoke about the conversations she has had about her vote and voice.

“When people (in Sweden) discover I’m American, they ask me about politics as if I’m a representative for universal American opinion,” Woodsum said. “That needs to change, and that can be accomplished partially with voting.”

Some Chapman students participated in the nation wide walk out in early March to protest gun violence in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting. The March For Our Lives on March 24, which was organized by students with the help of leaders of the Women’s March, sparked a new wave  of student outrage.

Time will tell whether or not students choose to make their voices heard in the approaching midterm elections.

“If you have the right person representing you, who holds your values and will fight for them, that’s what can make the difference,” said Katherine Shields, a junior communication major. “It can be hard to care about your local elections when you could be studying. But as we’ve seen, students can have an amazing impact.”

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