Columbia celebrates Constitution

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

Free copies of the U.S. Constitution and light refreshments drew Columbia students to the voter registration tables in the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., on Sept. 17.

The tables were part of We the PPL, an event hosted by Student Financial Services, the Columbia Urban Music Association, the college library and the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department in recognition of the 225th celebration of Constitution Day. Events included a faculty lecture and political performances by Columbia students.

Observation of Constitution Day is federally mandated, which commemorates the Constitutions ratification in 1787, for every educational institution that accepts federal funding, said Cole Robertson, the library marketing coordinator.

“A lot of schools will send out an email with information about the Constitution, or they’ll put out fliers and posters,” Robertson said. “[In a presidential election year] this seemed like the most practical way that would actually help people.”

Robertson emphasized the nonpartisan nature of the drive, saying his role was to facilitate registration without venturing an opinion.

“I try to keep up on politics quite a bit, and I feel it’s an American duty to do so,” said Julius Baldridge, a senior film & video major who worked with Robertson on the event.

Robertson said having information about current political events is great, but harnessing that information and using it to change the world is even better.

The role of young people on Election Day remains as pivotal as it was in 2008, said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Simpson sees the presidential race as part of a larger equation.

“Too many young people may not understand how important their vote is to the outcomes of this election cycle,” Simpson said. “They vote when they think their vote is important, and they vote when they think the outcome of the election is important.”

Simpson contrasted the influence of youth in the last two election cycles.

“[The youth vote] was up substantially in 2008, [and it] helped elect Obama,” Simpson said. “It was very depressed in the 2010 congressional elections, and it’s one of the reasons so many Republicans, particularly Tea Party Republicans, were elected to Congress.”

During the event, Ingrid Riedle,  an adjunct HHSS faculty member, gave a lecture at the Residence Center, 731 S. Plymouth Court, juxtaposing liberal and conservative viewpoints. A few other students joined the audience which included her Politics, Government and Society class.

Riedle broke down dominant political ideologies on a spectrum from moderate to extreme to present strategies used by each side.

“When it comes to aspects of order, discipline and creating stability, which is one of the fundamental democratic values, liberals and conservatives differ,” Riedle said.

She used crime as an example of these divergent approaches. She said liberals see crime as a result of systemic inequality that should be solved through bureaucratic intervention.

In contrast, conservative ideology views crime as an individual problem that might call for “more police [and] more deterrent measures, such as longer prison sentences,” Riedle said.

Oscar Valdez, a staff member in the HHSS Department, said Riedle’s presentation was their department’s contribution. He and the Coumbia Urban Music Association (CUMA) began planning the program during the summer.

He felt that if the group wanted to generate a political debate, it should start with campus events to get students thinking about the issues.

Valdez said he believes that many Americans do not take advantage of their freedoms, citing the recent conviction of the Russian punk rock trio Pussy Riot, which was tried in court in August after a performance in a Moscow church protesting the re-election of President Vladimir Putin.

“All of a sudden, they’re getting two years in jail, and they probably only got two years … because there were a lot of performers speaking on their behalf, [who] opened the eyes of the whole world,” Valdez said.

Paris Le’Ora Hipps, a sophomore theater major and member of CUMA, co-hosted the performance portion and helped seek out the featured talent. She said the nature of the event made it difficult to find performers.

“It’s really hard to find people [who] are in our age group at Columbia [who] want to talk about something conscious, something that actually matters,”Le’Ora said.