September 21, 2016

KOWALEWSKI | The Part We Play

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Here’s the current state of the affairs: Donald Trump has closed much of his polling gap with Hillary Clinton. While I believe that the Democrats continue to hold the advantage, the probability of a Trump victory is far from remote. Furthermore, the Republican Party has the potential to retain control of both the House and the Senate. In the simplest terms, this election is highly competitive.

On an average day, we encounter a wide-range of facts and stimuli, and must act accordingly. Some of these choices are mundane. Other options are a bit more difficult. In the first paragraph, I presented the basic facts of the electoral situation. Your choice, now, is how to react. With November 8 approaching every day, indecision is a decision in itself.

For the vast majority of undergraduate students campus, this will be the only presidential election we experience at Cornell. Collectively, regardless of our political leanings, we have grown up under the shared experience of the Obama presidency. Now, for freshmen, this next commander-in-chief will serve for at least the entirety of your undergraduate experience. Even more, for those of us who are seniors, we will put together the blueprint for our lives within an economy and a world shaped by this election.

Indeed, the president governs a country of more than 300 million people, manages a federal budget of nearly 4 trillion dollars and controls an arsenal of 2,000 nuclear weapons. He or she has an enormous power to both create and destroy. I will never be afraid to explain why I believe Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who can be given this responsibility. However, I concede occasional frustration with those who make light of it. Even if you do not like our options, they are still our options. Minimizing their importance will change nothing.

So yes, this matters. Will you shy away? Would you take these few steps to set a course for our national journey? I offer this challenge to more than one target. Yes, I will attempt to convince the person who asserts that the election is ultimately insignificance, or those who apparently believe a less than perfect option absolves you from responsibility. But most of all I want to address those who already do care.

On this campus, there is a disconnect between strongly-held political feelings and action. It’s not hard to see why. We are busy. Sometimes, we are just trying to stay afloat. But in our role as humans, students and citizens, we must play many parts. And I think for this moment, in particular, the stage is clear. Therefore, I ask all of you to step in, for this brief period that remains until the election. How? There are, in my opinion, three avenues for turning belief into action.

The most important is to vote. For those of you from crucial swing states, I urge you not to allow distance to abrogate your voting rights. Be proactive in obtaining and returning your absentee ballot. Yet, this is about more than just the electoral map. New York may not be contested this fall, but Ithaca’s political representation certainly will. Our congressional race features Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), the incumbent and an ardent supporter of Donald Trump. He could be President Trump’s close partner in Congress, or the enduring voice of Trump’s ideas even after his defeat. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone who cares about the presidential election could not extend this passion to this congressional seat.

Every Cornell student who is a U.S. citizen is eligible to vote here, in Ithaca. I implore each and every one of you to get registered. It takes less than five minutes. And on election day, don’t let other time commitments take priority over your sacred civic responsibility.

Second, I understand that not every Cornell student can vote. There are others who may vote, but feel uncomfortable with this type of organized political partisan engagement. I do not mean to denigrate the role of the outsider, or the activist. These efforts too, have their part in society. Many of us at Cornell are dealing with the emotional labor that comes from racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and the other bigotry exposed by this election. I will not tell anyone how to struggle against these forms of hate. But I do ask for the consideration of how closely these issues are connected to our elections, especially in this cycle.

My last point is to stress the value of direct engagement in democracy. This means volunteering, making calls, and going door to door. This is the hard work that can change minds, and motivate fellow citizens to action. It does not go unnoticed when young people get involved. I have seen the gratitude and enthusiasm from our local community. We have candidates like Leslie Danks Burke, for State Senate, who sincerely value and depend upon us as engaged students. It is powerful to know that you are recognized as a crucial voice in the political system.

We are fortunate to live in Ithaca, a place that appreciates this civic participation. Still, on a broader level, it is true that we must still continue to fight for the policies and principles that we cherish most. But if we fall to show up at all, we’ve already lost. If you feel your voice isn’t being heard, make sure you’re speaking.

In the end, there is no virtue to disillusionment. It is the easy way out, the intellectual refuge from a complicated world. And there is nothing neutral about inaction. When it comes to this election, we all have a personal, moral obligation to be involved. The changes and reforms that we seek will only be realized through our efforts as students, young people, and advocates. Participation is the core tenet of the American project. We cannot expect the government to represent us if we won’t represent ourselves.

In a couple months, we will all wake up on November 9, and find out the results of the election. I know that no matter what the outcome is, I will know that I’ve tried my best. Will you have that same peace of conscience?

Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.