Opinion

Political engagement is a group effort

Engaging politically is only effective when large groups of people are engaged, requiring us to utilize whatever power we have as citizens.

Is my voice heard?

In a country of 325.7 million people, a state of 5.8 million and a school of 43,820, how powerful can I honestly be? Do I really matter?

Can I get any more cliché? Will this op-ed be nothing but questions?

Having voted for the first time in my life just yesterday, I felt curiously unfulfilled. Through semi-traumatic flashbacks to the Scantron tests I took in high-school, I dutifully filled in the bubbles that corresponded with my choices, submitted the ballot, and slapped my “I VOTED TODAY” sticker on my chest with aplomb. Walking out of Memorial Union, though, felt strangely …

Mundane.

Having gotten more flyers stressing the importance of voting than Harry Potter did Hogwarts acceptance letters, I would have expected at the very least a military flyover for my patriotic deed. I was simply left wondering –– somewhat cynically, I’ll admit –– if voting was all that it was cracked up to be.

Of course, it seems like I’m not alone. The statistics have been written about time and time again, but it bears repeating that, per NPR, only 46 percent of those ages 18-35 voted in 2016’s presidential election. That certainly seems to point to a general apathy within the millennial generation. Compare this to a 72 percent turnout from the silent generation –– those 71 years of age or older –– and you start seeing a pretty serious disparity.

This leaves me in a bit of a pickle. My initial response to these kind of numbers is to try and compensate for them, and do my fair part by voting. My secondary response, though, colors itself a bit more pessimistically. What does one solitary vote added really do, especially in a state that traditionally has one of the highest voter turnouts in the nation?

A realization struck me as I was walking up Bascom Hill today, specifically when I passed the plaque that named the North Hall as the first campus building erected, way back in 1851. The campus of UW-Madison is quite literally a city upon a hill. The practical meaning of this is that the surrounding city looks up to us, the students, while the figurative meaning is that we’re looked up to as role models.

You might think this is reading into this a bit too far, or perhaps inflating our collective importance, but it’s true throughout history that college students have been on the forefront of many political movements. Starting with the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War, this trend has continued through to today, with protests against the current administration and Pride rallies for LGBTQ+ rights.

Maybe one vote doesn’t matter so much. For as many battleground states as there are, there are just as many states in which governor races are runaway affairs, separated by tens of thousands of votes. But that doesn’t mean when I vote, my voice isn’t heard.

A solo singer needs a mic, but an unamplified choir can fill an entire musical hall.

The students of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, as well as the students in colleges around the nation, are powerful. We are on the cusp of the future, as our ideas and beliefs, whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green or other, will go on to shape the future. This means our voices are quite possibly the most powerful in the nation.

We just have to use them.

Ben is a freshman studying English and education studies. How was your voting experience this election? Send your thoughts and comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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