This November, the students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison faced a referendum not just on a litany of House, Senate and gubernatorial races, but also on whether or not we possess the passion to enact real change.
And we did well! So well, in fact, that it’s possible we’ll win the Big Ten Voting Challenge. Student turnout across the country absolutely smashed 2014 records and rivaled the 2016 election — something that’s unheard of for midterm voting.
Now, more than ever before, the political stage is representative of the desires and demands of Madison students. That’s because we have the great fortune of living under a political system wherein every single citizen has the opportunity to make their voice heard.
That’s something I don’t think most people realize about voting. There’s no law or institution that can’t be changed by the will of the people, not even the constitution itself. It’s the most direct way of having your voice heard.
Concerned about your mounting student loans? Vote for a representative who’ll fight to keep tuition low. Worried about how much you’re going to pay for a checkup when you can’t just visit UHS? Elect someone who wants to make sure you can access healthcare. Angry at how the criminal justice system treats people charged with marijuana possession? Hope you voted on that referendum!
Nothing is safe from your vote. But that also means that you’ve got to fight hard to protect the things you believe in, too. I’ll never forget talking to a coworker of mine who was from California and was there for the vote on Proposition 8.
He’d promised a close friend that he would vote “no” on the Proposition, even shook the guy’s hand, gave him a hug. Come election day, though, my coworker got caught up in a chain of events all too common with prospective voters.
My coworker had gotten a late start to his morning, wasn’t able to get out of work, didn’t beat the LA traffic and couldn’t find time to hit the polling place once he got home. Not a huge deal, right? He was pretty sure his vote didn’t matter. It did.
To lend a bit of context, here’s the full text of Proposition 8:
SECTION 1. Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage Protection Act.”
SECTION 2. Article I, Section 7.5 is added to the California Constitution, to read:
Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
How could my coworker look his friend in the eye, knowing he was part of the reason he can’t marry the love of their life? Proposition 8 was struck down five years later, but my coworker said his shame lasted longer than that. He’s voted in every election since.
Politics can feel like a kind of abstract horse-race sometimes, a subject someone you met at Plaza that got way too heated about one time. But when we decide that civic action is unimportant — when we don’t appreciate the power of our vote—we lose the ability to change the world around us for the better.
That’s the thing. Nothing is safe from your vote. We can’t stop here.