Don’t be ‘that guy’—register to vote

By Sara Harvey

We’ve come a long way, baby.

In 1870, black people got the right to vote with the 15th Amendment, but for decades it was hindered by disenfranchisement until Congress passed legislation in 1957, 1960 and 1964 that contained voting-related provisions. And women have been voting for just 88 years, having gained the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

This year we have the option to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, who is mixed, but commonly referred to as black, and for Sen. John McCain, who has a female running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. But that’s just the main parties—the Green Party has Rep. Cynthia Ann McKinney (D.-Ga.), who is both black and female. This is an in-your-face historic election, and, if you’re 18, you should be itching to fill out your voter registration form, if you haven’t already.

But how much does our age group really care? Sixty percent of people ages 18-29 registered to vote in 2004, according to a study by The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). Thirty-eight percent of the people who didn’t register said it was because they weren’t interested in the election or politics. Basically, they didn’t give a crap. Don’t be that person.

We don’t have that same information for this election yet. We’re stuck with numbers after the fact,and everyone knows hindsight is 20/20—which means we need to use them after the election to decide how to reform our voting efforts for 2012.

Studies such as the one CIRCLE did reflect poorly on youth culture. People in the lower end of the 18-29 age bracket already have a reputation for being apathetic—we can’t seem to be bothered by politics when we’re busy getting entertained-even though at 18, we’re considered adults. How is it possible that “adults” can be so apathetic about the future of this country?

If registering to vote was as easy as joining groups like “We Hate the New Facebook!” on social networking sites, we’d probably have a heap of people armed and ready to make their vote count. But if you own a “Buck Fush” T-shirt or are constantly crabby and complaining about crazy liberals in Congress, you better earn your right to complain about the government by casting your vote on Election Day.

Columbia is full of passionate people, political or not. Why not flaunt it? But the only political groups on campus are World Can’t Wait and Students for a Democratic Society. So that’s the extent of our political interest here at Columbia? Probably not.

Nonpartisan student organizations are, in fact, doing more than their opinionated counterparts to get students to vote.

Columbia’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was on campus with Rock the Vote! on Sept. 17. The opening reception for Hispanic Heritage month at the C33 Gallery in the 33 E. Congress Parkway building had a table out with buttons saying “Su voto es su voz,” or “Your vote is your voice.” But the button doesn’t mean anything unless you actually vote.

As for people who can’t vote yet, I know it’s hard to stand by and watch someone get elected whose views you don’t agree with. So don’t stand by. Watching it all go down and saying you’re going to skip school or wear black if McCain or Obama gets elected will make you look really stupid.

Act like you care about this election before it’s over by canvassing for your favorite candidate or participating in rallies. Do whatever it takes to get your point across. What good does it do to sit home and pout? That’s not sticking it to the man, it’s helping him.

Whether you decide to vote because Robert Duvall did voiceovers for McCain’s ads, because you think Paris Hilton in one of them is a bad political move, because you hope for change or because you think we had no choice but to go to war, register soon. The chance to have an impact on an election this historic could be once in a lifetime.