Voting Voices Blog
A new initiative of the Center for Youth Political Participation, we asked students in the Darien Civic Engagement Project to share their stories of democracy, voting and civic engagement as they prepare to cast their ballot this November.
The Voting Voices blog was created as a virtual project of the Darien Civic Engagement Project, a 1.5 credit class focused on registering, mobilizing and engaging Rutgers students to participate in election.
As of September 4, 2020, New Jersey instituted online voter registration. Register to vote and receive election reminders with the help of rutgers.turbovote.org!
In commemoration of Constitution Day 2020, we asked students from Rutgers University-New Brunswick , Rutgers University-Newark and Rutgers University-Camden to share their story of democracy and how they intend to make America more inclusive of all!
October 22, 2020
What does voting represent to you?
Imran Bukhari, Rutgers University-New Brunswick Class of 2023
Voting is the opportunity for everyone to make change in the place they live. This can be at the county level, state level and national level. Voting is the extension of the people’s voices. By not voting, people only give up their voice and their power. One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. was “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Martin Luther King Jr. did a great job of encapsulating voting in this one sentence. He realized that silence does not breed change, people have to come together and fight for change. Voting is a way we align our ideas with others and choose candidates that best represent ourselves and our vision for the future.
As a minority of the United States population, it is even more important for me to vote for people that are like me so that I can be represented in the different levels of government. My family is from Pakistan and India and as an Asian American, it is important to know that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing segment of eligible voters in the United States. Due to the lack of outreach to Asian Americans, this is a figure I rarely heard about. In fact, Asian Americans constitute 5% of the electorate for this presidential election and if we want to make a difference we all need to get out and vote. We cannot sit and wait for political leaders to approach us; we must take initiative and make our voices heard. Voting is not only something that affects you, it affects your community and the people you share your values and beliefs.
In our current polarized political climate, it is hard for people in the middle to vote for a candidate. With our current two party system in the United States, while voting for a presidential candidate, sometimes you have to sacrifice some values for others. It is a matter of choosing the best out of the two candidates. Although you may not align 100% with a certain candidate, that does not mean that you still should not vote. Giving up your right to vote, is giving up your power to someone that you may not even agree with at all. It is imperative that people make their own informed decision that best fits their values and beliefs. I will vote this fall to contribute to our democracy and bring change to our government.
October 8, 2020
How has activism in recent months shaped your participation in the democratic process?
Swasti Jain, Rutgers University-New Brunswick Class of 2022
Black Lives Matter. These three words ignited a revolution this Summer or at least made it feel like one. Amidst a global pandemic and a divisive Presidential election, as people were home with seemingly little to do, a storm was brewing. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd fueled centuries of anger and resentment, especially in the context of unjust police brutality and deep-seated racism. The activism by people across generations, especially America’s youth made me hopeful. But most of all, it made me want to vote and get out the vote. The protests reverberated with echoes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, where Black Americans fought, bled, and died for the right to vote. I understood, more than ever, that they did not die in vain. I understood that voting is something we cannot take for granted. I understood how important voting is in the democratic process.
As a result, I thought about racism in America, how it affects politics, and how it will affect our future if we don’t act against it. It was overwhelming for a college student to think about, but at the same time, it was nothing compared to the sacrifice Black Americans face on a daily basis, and the protestors rallying on the streets. I saw the way businesses, whole industries, and influencers responded to the activism and knew I had to do the same. Although activism on social media holds tremendous power, I believe that lasting and meaningful change happens at the smallest levels. Change happens from reading and discussing historically important yet forgotten stories, signing petitions supporting victims’ families, and giving your money to causes you care about. It’s these quiet and simple actions that ripple across your own household, your community, and your country.
Reflecting on this Summer, the BLM movement and the coinciding pandemic has revealed deep societal cracks that existed before but went by unnoticed. These cracks revolve around economic inequality, climate change, criminal justice, and corruption. Again, I understand how powerless and voiceless we can feel in the face of these overwhelming and grand challenges. However, our generation is powerful – we saw just how much this past Summer and this power comes from our large size and diversity. This coming November, we have a new movement to create, and it is not just about BLM; it’s about everything. We have to educate ourselves, talk about politics (instead of screaming about it), support candidates whose policies speak to us, and VOTE. The democratic process is not easy, but it is there for us when we feel like our voices don’t matter, when we feel like the system is too powerful, and when people say young people cannot make a difference. We got into Good Trouble this Summer, let’s create a quiet revolution this November.
October 1, 2020
Casting a Vote for the First Time
Jackson Snellman, Rutgers University-New Brunswick Class of 2022
It is a magical experience to vote for the first time, especially when you are a college student. Just as your world is expanding seemingly exponentially with all of the knowledge and perspectives you are taking in, a blank ballot sits in front of you and asks you to make choices that will not only impact you, but your community. I faced just this challenge in the 2018 election, my first in which I was eligible to vote, when I was voting for every position from Insurance Commissioner to Governor of Georgia to my Member of Congress. Sitting at my desk, I meticulously searched up the names and positions of every role, writing down my choices carefully. Participating in a democracy was not a luxury afforded to everyone, and I knew I had to educate myself on the decisions I was making for my community. After finishing, enthusiastic about seeing the results of the races in just a few short weeks, I walked to the mail room – stopping to take a quick photo to encourage others to participate as I had – and dropped my ballot into the mailbox.
College students in the present day are part of the most diverse generation in American history, and might make up the largest voting bloc in the 2020 elections. It is a humbling experience to be a member of a group with such influence, and deciding not only what your future will look like for the next four years, but potentially the next forty. Watching the returns come in on election night, I was thrilled at some results and disappointed in others, but a sense of gratitude followed me to sleep that night, for I knew that the gears of our republic had continued to grind on. Being an active participant in government sometimes isn’t pretty, and requires a lot of dedication and enthusiasm on the part of the constituent. However, as Rep. John Lewis, who represented Atlanta for 33 years in Congress, stated in his final essay to the country, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build … a nation and world society at peace with itself.”1 To the college student who is feeling doubtful about whether their voice matters – ask yourself, if you are not voting for yourself, who would you vote for? The small business owner who is struggling to get their feet off the ground? The mother who works two jobs and has to ask her friends to watch her kids after school while working the evening shift? These realities exist around us, and it is our obligation and our nearly unique opportunity to change life for the better, for all of us. Vote this fall, and the next, and forevermore – but never let go of the feeling you get the first time you step into your role as a democratic citizen.
1 John Lewis. Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation. The New York Times, July 30, 2020.
September 17, 2020
Share Your Story of Democracy
Shivani Patel, Rutgers University-New Brunswick Class of 2022
Constitution day marks the adoption of the United States Constitution over 200 years ago. The Constitution was written with the hopes of creating a strong and effective central government, which the Articles of Confederation had failed to do. As we celebrate Constitution Day, we reflect on the state of our democracy and what our role is, and the truth is that the state of our democracy is very much flawed. While the title “flawed democracy” is nominal and derived from the Democracy Index – in which the United States ranks below eight out of ten – this distinction is valid and has rationale. Our low democracy ranking is very much evident in the past few months, where the state of the Covid-19 pandemic continued to worsen, and protestors were taking the streets nationwide due to police brutality and the lack of civil rights. The events of the past six months are telling as to what the state of our democracy currently is, especially because not much has changed since. As for my role, I believe as a citizen of this country, it is my responsibility, as well as others, to do what we can to improve to the state of our democracy and to make it more inclusive for all. This includes using our voice to create change by protesting in support of Black Lives Matter, wearing a mask to reduce the spread of a virus, or voting in the upcoming election.
The definition of democracy as created by the Founders places an emphasis on an indirect or representative democracy, rather than giving the power to the people. This democracy also relies heavily on the Electoral College to elect a president, rather than the popular vote, which truly shows who the people elected. Our American democracy story is one of growth and one that is still being written. While we have come a long way from the day the Constitution was adopted 200 years ago, our democracy still has growing to do to be more inclusive and representative of its population. To play my part, I plan on taking advantage of this election year and ensuring that everyone I know uses their voice and casts a ballot in the upcoming election. We have the power to shape the communities we live in through civic engagement and political participation. To improve our democracy and make it into what we expect it to be, we must take an active role in our communities. I encourage everyone who can to use the power of their voice and vote in the upcoming election to prompt the change that we want to see.