I’ll start with the observation that a lot of people at Vassar just don’t like the government. There are plenty of reasons for this–its clear inability to accomplish even basic tasks, its inability to accurately reflect the social views of the majority of the population, its inability to pass any legislation remotely representing a cohesive progressive vision. But these explanations are almost always an indirect way of saying that the government is full of Republicans and Tea Partiers. And each is pushing their own conservative agenda, whether that entails stopping the function of government in its tracks, removing financial safety nets and regulations, ignoring issues that disproportionately affect minority communities, fostering a general disdain for education and universal healthcare or doing nothing more than making sure the Democratic president can accomplish as little as possible. Vassar College, I probably don’t have to tell you, is not chock-full of conservatives. For this reason, many Vassar students generally dislike the government, or at least the representatives of which it’s composed. If the internal workings of the system aren’t viable, a solution might be to break down the system from the outside—get involved in activist movements and become a grassroots organizer. But to me, this is only an indirect way of saying that more liberals should be in government. Which is another way of saying that more people need to vote for liberals.
The problem we have now is that there are a lot of representatives who don’t reflect our interests in government, working day and night to make sure the government also doesn’t reflect our interests. They’re there for many reasons. But the most important reason is, ironically, something that conservatives have always known: Liberals are lazy, at least when it comes to voting. In 2008, the election of Barack Obama represented the greatest turnout of voters for a Democrat in over half a century, and the same was nearly true of the 2012 presidential election. But those same Democrats who showed up at polling booths in 2008 and 2012 failed to turn up at the 2010 midterm elections for Congress, and so the American people were famously gift-wrapped a Republican-majority House of Representatives that proceeded to steamroll any attempts at bipartisan legislation or executive branch suggestion. Why were they (conservatives) in power? Because people voted for them. But not just that. They were also in power because liberals didn’t vote for their opposition. Say what you may about the Republican party, but they are really good at politics. Just about every Republican votes in every election. On the other hand, Democrats only turn out when they perceive something is really amiss. This seems (at first) to be the more rational response—why vote if nothing’s wrong? But look at the results: Congress is disproportionately full of conservatives.
My point is this: If you aren’t a conservative, you may feel like your vote doesn’t mean anything, or that voting itself isn’t creating the sort of solution required to fix things. But you do need to vote. In a two-party system, when you don’t vote for the candidate closest to your interests, you’re essentially voting for the other candidate. The refusal to vote is not a noble abstention from the system. It contributes to the disintegration of the progressive movement. All the Republicans could ask for is for young voters to believe that their vote won’t do anything. Believe it or not, your vote, as a Vassar student, is actually one of the most valuable in the country.
Where we live, you might be surprised to find out, is one of the most volatile and contentious districts in the entire country, at both the federal and state level. Our congressional district is the home to Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. The last three of four elections, the incumbent in his position has lost. Nowhere else in America in the last decade is that true. Right now, he’s being challenged by Tea Party member Nan Hayworth, who’s coming back with a vengeance after her defeat in 2012. If the same liberals and college students who came out for Maloney in 2012 don’t come back to the polls, he’s screwed, and we’ve got another Tea Partier in the House. Nan Hayworth gets elected when we don’t vote. The Republicans know this, which is why they’ve moved our polling booth farther away from campus (it used to be in the middle school on Raymond Ave.). Similarly, in our New York State senate district, Democratic Incumbent Terry Gipson is also being challenged. The Republicans want that seat really badly, because that would give them the majority in the state senate. The state senate race doesn’t sound really important at all, until you realize that with a majority, Democrats can pass the Equal Pay for Equal Work Amendment in all of New York, as well as the DREAM Act. With a Republican majority, that’s gone. Didi Barrett is another Democratic incumbent who needs our support, in our state assembly district. As a Vassar student and resident of Poughkeepsie, you have literally one of the most valuable votes in the country.
You don’t have to be a Democrat, not by any means. Activism and out-of-the-system movements are absolutely essential to our political system. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that activism is a substitute for participating in the political system as it is; activism is a supplement. The more Democrats we elect, the more power the left has, and so more progressive Democratic candidates can run at all, and then get elected. The more progressive Democrats we can elect, the more the government will change—the electoral system can be amended, campaign finance can be reformed, districting can be re-thought. So please take the one hour a year to vote, and don’t tell your friends that voting doesn’t matter. Particularly in Poughkeepsie, it really f-ing does!
—Christopher Dietz ’17 is a political science major.