I remember the first time I saw it: I was a few steps outside my townhouse, clamoring for something spontaneous to do when, as a godsend in response to my boredom, a girl I vaguely recognized invited me to join her and her friends in a trek to the forbidden lands of a new construction site on Cornell’s campus. Under the protective veil of a late Thursday night, we slipped into the bottom floor of what would soon be my home away from home: Klarman Hall.
Back then, it was just stone and sawdust. Now, Klarman is the place where I do most of my work. Whether I’m lucky enough to earn my own chair or condemned to a spot on the floor, I usually find my way to somewhere in the building after my classes during the week.
Recently, I’ve spent a bit more time looking around in Klarman and I’ve noticed that each of the students with whom I regularly interact inside its walls run in the same circles. It’s the people I met at obscure concerts in basements or club meetings about social justice. Klarmites are a unique breed: living off vegan food, classic movies and the feel of denim jackets on their backs.
There is no rule that establishes the building as the hippie’s hideaway, but it doesn’t need a rule. The folks who look like they would fit in at Klarman show up in order to be near their friends and the people like me, who just wish they were cool enough to look like they would fit in, show up in hopes of becoming quintessential Klarmites by osmosis.
Outside of college, this sort of locational typecasting persists. Many people choose where they live based upon their own perceptions of the kinds of people who live in these cities, which, in the end, has enormous effects on the political and social atmosphere of our country.
Recently, I read an article about the fact that, in the last presidential election, only four major cities voted Republican. Intuitively, this shouldn’t be a surprise; the stereotypical yuppie cherishes their New York Times subscription too much to ever vote for a GOP candidate. But the phenomenon begs an important question: do Democrats just flock to cities or are there actually components to these cities that make people into Democrats?
The answer, perhaps as expected, is complex. It’s a lot like Klarman: some people are there because they fit in and others are like the type of person I hope to become — one who will soon morph into the mold.
Statistically, cities attract or happen to house hordes of individuals who fit into the demographics known to support democratic candidates in high percentages: highly educated professionals, members of the creative class and folks receiving welfare benefits.
The people who begin to lean left because of their urban lifestyles, on the other hand, do so both because of social factors and the fact that they aren’t regularly exposed to archetypes that are sometimes associated with the Republican worldview. They don’t hunt or farm or spend much time with those who do.
Regardless of how it happens for a given person, this regional divide exists in full force and has notable effects on our political landscape.
Because we have a winner-take-all electoral vote system in most states, the urban-rural political phenomenon should be of particular concern to red states with growing city populations. Take Texas for example: According to census estimates, five of the top 10 U.S. cities with the largest numerical population increases last year were in the Lone Star State.
Of these five cities, four of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
In other words, the liberal havens tucked away in the Texas terrain are growing rapidly while many of the rural, more reliably Republican areas shrink. This may not sound like a big deal now, but it can soon become one because voting statistics show that the majority of Texas voters come from a handful of populous counties, most of which house or border one of the growing cities.
Texas might not go blue in this election or the next, but if cities continue to attract who they attract and transform who they transform, all bets are off.
So whether you’re a hippie in Klarman or a liberal in Texas, it matters where you are. You could be unknowingly comprising a gargantuan political movement or convincing some lame kid you met at Moosewood that this is where the cool kids study.
Either way, I say it’s worth it to stick around.
Paul Russell is a sophomore in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russelling Feathers appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.