Last week was one of excitement for the Students of UMF’s Upward Bound. The hot topic: voting and voter education.
Every morning, the event’s coordinator and summer staff, Joshua Gagnon gave a reading to each of the students. Though they were very short, a few paragraphs usually, each reading managed to spark interest in voting or other popular issues among the students. At morning meeting Josh presented us with a video clip about the importance of voting and the importance of knowing yourself and what is important to you.
As a whole the students were mostly too young to vote, ages ranging from 14 to 17 with very few being eighteen, the message was delivered in time. The eighteen to twenty-four age bracket is very inactive when it comes to voting. In the 2004 election only 47% of citizens ages eighteen to twenty-four registered and voted. The popular attitude for a member of this young generation seems to be that they are only one person and person’s opinion doesn’t count in a country of millions. So many people take this attitude that eventually one person accumulates and reaches the 28% of citizens who didn’t vote in the 2004 election. Even though that number may seem small, if you take 28% of 301,621,157, the United States population in 2007, you get about 75,500,000 people whose vote could have swayed the results of the last presidential election.
This is the point that Gagnon and other staff members were trying to emphasize when they organized an enrichment seminar like I have never before seen. Representative Tom Saviello of Wilton was invited to speak about his experiences as a member of the House of Representatives, his duties as a member, and how everyone’s vote counts.
“Politics are like sports. The ones who don’t vote or take part is the crowd, the audience. Those of us who give suggestions and help keep things running smoothly are the referees. And everyone else who is actively participating is the athletes. The audience can hoot and holler all they want but they aren’t getting anything done. The only way to help make change is to get out there on the field and take action.” Mr. Saviello said of the importance of voting. Even though you are only one person, your opinion matters. It’s your way of being engaged in what’s happening to you and making the changes that are really needed.
We spent the afternoon in break off groups researching and discussing each of the main issues revolving around the 2008 presidential election. Among these were environment, economy, education, same-sex marriage, health care, and the war in Iraq. We presented our information to the group and were given some time to think about the issues and which candidate we would vote for if we were able to in the next election.
Also invited as a closing speaker was UMF professor, James Melcher, a hilarious and extremely intelligent man. He spoke about how he became interested in politics at a young age and how important education is to the voter and the vote. He told us when he was about five years old he became a bit of an “election geek” as he called it. What did it for him was the campaign buttons and the cut-outs of politicians faces on the back of cereal boxes. “I realized, wow something must be really important about this (election) if his head is on a cereal box!” said Melcher as the students began to chuckle. Of course, with many impressions and spoofs on politicians, he was able to keep our attention and help us to focus more on the issues that were really important to us before our mock election led by Mr. Saviello. Which, by the way, ended in a landslide victory for… Barack Obama.