A year ago, we waited with bated breath to see whether Barack Obama would remain President. Our campus — not to mention our nation — was infused with an historic sort of energy. Students who had never before considered themselves politically savvy found themselves swept up in the quadrennial climax of participatory democracy — an attitude that culminated in stressful Election Night get-togethers where the crunch of popcorn was drowned out by the constant babble of cable news talking-heads. It was a day when the stakes of our democracy seemed relevant to us all, even the supra-partisan Wall Street-bound AEM majors, and the post-political idealists who stroll the Arts Quad detailing a philosophy that so incongruously mingles the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul. One year ago, we jumped as one into the current of American history. It was breathtaking.
As a political junkie, I knew immediately that I would remember the President’s victory speech as a seminal moment in my college experience. 2012, after all, was our college election. For those few brisk autumn weeks, we were the first-time voters, the students, the future that everyone kept talking about. We were the change, the civic ideal, that anchored stump speeches. That will not happen again.
Today, though you may not realize, it is Election Day again.
Yes, Ho Plaza’s only quarter-carders are those soliciting you to come see their a cappella show. Yes, the only people who will be interested in today’s CNN iPhone updates will be news addicts like myself. Yes, tonight will not erupt in a heroic (or, if you are so inclined, tragic) coronation of confetti, nor will Wolf Blitzer’s over-excitable visage haunt our televisions screens. But it is still Election Day.
I will not implore you to go out and vote. I could not, in good faith, tell you do so, since I myself, political junkie though I am, may have forgotten to mail in my absentee ballot before Nassau County’s deadline. When I think back on the past year, at how quickly our student population has resumed its vicious cycle of political unrealism and cynicism, I cannot help but feel that we must try to reconceptualize what it means to be a citizen of the United States in the 21st century.
It is tempting to associate ourselves with this grand national enterprise only when sexy news headlines entice us towards such unity. The modern network through which we cultivate our civic identity — from the New York Times app to Sun articles posted aggressively on Facebook to that guy on the adjacent treadmill watching FOX News — might allow us to form generational bonds through BuzzFeed’s constant reminders of what it meant to grow up in the 1990s, but it does not engender vigorous, proactive citizenship.
Our politics has not been this fractious since the Civil War. We, the informed and ambitious leaders of the next century, have an obligation to raise our voices against dysfunction and demagoguery at all levels of government. Liking “Ready for Hillary” on Facebook does not equate to political activity, and we cannot wait for the 2016 nominating conventions to rekindle our interest in the American experience. This campus should be brimming with social and political advocacy even when the landscape of presidential politics is barren. We are still the students for whom Barack Obama and Mitt Romney laid out such contrasting visions; though their debates have receded into history, their words should reverberate with us as strongly now as they did in 2012. Campaign rhetoric can only shrivel into empty promises if we stop listening after the campaign ends. It is our civic duty to keep listening.
Today, New Jersey will most probably re-elect Governor Chris Christie, thus vaulting him to the forefront of the GOP as a successful, blue-state Republican whose reelection could light the way for the conservative movement’s return to sanity. New York City, that liberal bastion of the East Coast, will almost certainly make Bill de Blasio its first Democratic mayor in two decades. De Blasio’s unabashed progressivism could make NYC a crucible for 21st century liberal policies beyond Bloomberg’s soda ban. In Virginia’s gubernatorial race, former Clintonite Terry McAuliffe will likely triumph over the antediluvian Republican Ken Cuccinelli, proving Virginia’s increasingly bluish tinge. The suspense, admittedly, is nothing compared to 2012, but tonight’s results will establish trends that should interest anyone wishing to be engaged in our great American discourse.
And then there are the races that barely anyone will notice. My father’s friend is running for the Nassau County legislature, while my high school classmate’s uncle is attempting to unseat Nassau County’s District Attorney. My fraternity brother exhorted all our Westchester fraters (there are quite a few) to support his family friend’s bid for county judge. These elections do not necessarily link us all together in historic affirmations of the American experience, but they show us, importantly, that democratic citizenship allows us entry to political processes in ways that are far more intimate than our headline-centered understanding of Election Day suggests.
Politics may not always be glamorous, but it is always relevant. Election Days like these, if we care to pay attention to them, can show us just how relevant they are.