We?ve all heard it at least once in the last few days: ?That?s it, I?m moving to Canada.? While the line comes mostly in jest, underneath it there lies a great deal of hurt, disappointment, and fear about the coming four years. Judging by the signs and pins around campus alone, one may surmise that this Presidential election did not come out the way most CMU students would have preferred. Having spent half my time since coming to CMU working for Kerry, I know the disappointment that many students here must feel. However, after the experience of this election day, I know that we ? as volunteers, as young voters, and as Americans ? have good reason to be joyful and proud of what occurred here and, more broadly, in Pittsburgh this November 2. While the election may be over now, student political involvement at CMU can continue with the momentum we saw during the election, if only we will continue to be engaged and fight for our values at every turn.
From the moment I arrived on campus at 7:45 am to the moment my car pulled back into the UC turnaround from taking that last student to the polls, this campus was alive and energized like nothing I?d ever seen. Any student who saw the Schenley Park Golf Course polling station after 3 pm knows the level of enthusiasm and dedication that student voters from our school exhibited. Pride is an understatement for the feeling I had while watching people younger than myself wait three to four hours so that their voices could be heard.
And make no mistake; our voices were heard.
Data shows that a mere 238 votes were cast at Schenley in the 2000 election. This year, we filled buses, cars, and vans for 12 hours and easily tripled that number ? MSNBC actually mentioned CMU for our efforts. According to data from the University of Pittsburgh?s main polling station, voter turnout there increased from 947 voters in 2000 to more than 1500 this year. The work that was done in this part of the state by groups like Everybody Vote, MoveOn.org, the College Democrats, and many others was surely a factor in Pennsylvania. Voter turnout was increased by over 750,000 voters compared to the 2000 election, which had one of the highest turnouts in years. These numbers, as well as the raw excitement that we saw around campus last Tuesday, should make our university community, our city, and our state proud. We young voters of Pittsburgh contributed to an amazing 64 percent turnout rate in the 10 most crucial battleground states.
Yet when all was said and done, for the second consecutive time our school and our state did not correctly predict the winner of the Presidential election. November 2 was a dark day for Democrats across the country on nearly all fronts. It is my hope that these losses ? along with the gain of some new blood in the Senate in Ken Salazar and Barack Obama ? will shake up and breathe new life into the flailing Democratic Party. However, our next chance to enact change on such a grand scale is at least another two years away, when the staunchly conservative Senator Rick Santorum (R?Pa.) comes up for re-election.
In the meantime, our energy must not be allowed to deflate and diminish. We must not regress to the apathy older generations have alleged of us. Whether or not this election had an overall effect on the youth population of the country might be debatable, its effect on the college-age voting population of Pittsburgh is indisputable. Students at CMU, the University of Pittsburgh, and the other colleges were more excited, more informed, and more involved with politics than at any other time in recent history. While we await our next big chance for personnel change at the national level, there remains plenty of work to be done locally.
Simply put, local and grassroots politics can have much more impact on everyday life than Presidential races can. Perhaps if a few hundred more students had voted in our last mayoral or city council election, the bus service cutbacks we?re currently seeing on nights and weekends wouldn?t be happening. We have the power to affect these choices and to elect representatives that will listen to our concerns. Simple actions can have huge consequences. Go start a petition. Join a student group. Call your legislators and give them a piece of your mind. However you choose, CMU, get out and do something! Democracy requires not just votes in elections, but an engaged citizenship that holds its leaders accountable every step of the way. We as the youth of the nation have the most to lose by inactivity and the most to gain by political action.
This election season has proven our school and our community to be a model of what student political participation can be. While we should be proud of this fact and all of the tireless work that so many of us did for this election, there?s a long and tortuous road ahead. Our lives and our future are being gambled with every decision at City Hall and in Washington. Keep your chin up, students: In the end, the fear, deception, and division that has characterized our country for the past few years will give way to hope, truth, and love. In the words of Dan Bern ? one my favorite musicians ? there?s still time to take back the new millennium. It?s just going to take some work.