Progressives, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Over the past month we've seen Obama's numbers skyrocket while McCain's campaign has resorted to such sleazy tactics that even former Bush advisers are jumping ship. Polls show that brand new states are in play, and a lot more people are eligible to vote this time around because of the efforts of partisan campaigns and evil-doers like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. We'd like to propose that there is more at stake this time than the winner of the presidential election. So, at the risk of sounding pretentious, dictatorial, and activistier than thou, here's how you, Joe College-student, can matter this November:
GO CAMPAIGN. Go, go, go! We have an election break so that we can participate actively in the political process. There are many campaign trips leaving from campus this weekend. A hugely significant, and hopefully lasting, effect of the Obama campaign is the widespread politicization of a generation of left-of-center Americans. The campaign has made a massive effort to register new voters, young and old. Part of the challenge of politicizing voters, however, is actively facilitating their integration into the political process. Beyond any single candidate, this is about a unique opportunity to incorporate more people into the body politic. If you want to increase the electorate in the coming years, go contribute to politicizing your fellow Americans. We know you want to take a break, but why not knock around the neighborhood?
BE A LOCAVOTER. While voting and campaigning for Obama, don't forget the rest of the ticket. In New York, for example, the Democrats need one more seat to take control of the state Senate. This could mean, among other things, that New York passes the first legalization of gay marriage through a state legislature. In your hometown, there may be a hotly contested election for state representative or school board or Congress. These officials make the decisions that most directly effect you and your communities. The Columbia College Democrats will be campaigning in Virginia, not just for Obama, but for Mark Warner for Senate and Judy Feder for Congress. Feder in particular is in a difficult race, and the tremendous energy produced by the Obama campaign will be channeled into races lower on the ticket. So get out the vote for your local candidates, because Obama may be looking pretty good, but the officials closer to home matter too.
PROPS FOR PROPS. Don't forget all the other fun stuff on your ballot! Eighteen states let citizens amend their constitutions, and twenty-two let you write your own laws. Whether you're a Californian voting on a chicken's ability to do the hokey-pokey (Proposition 2), or a Montanan voting on insurance for children (Initiative-155), there are lots of social issues you can and should weigh in on. This is a great way to stick it to your dysfunctional state legislature.
INFLUENCE YOUR CANDIDATES. This is especially possible in the local elections, although it's never too late to dress up as a snowman and send a YouTube video to Barack. Candidates are pander machines, so make use of it! Call up the local offices and tell them what you think of that speech they just gave at your high school, or their policy on merit-based pay. Remind them that they promised to increase funding for your favorite project. Establishing a connection is easier than you think, and it might even pay off once your gal gets elected.
VOTE (fool). You may not be in love with the candidates. You may feel that Obama isn't progressive enough or that McCain is borderline senile. You may not like voting for the two main parties. You might feel that Biden's smile is kinda creepy. This is a bad reason not to vote. There are a million ways to make your voice heard in a more specific way and to try to influence candidates—supporting progressive candidates in primaries, taking part in issue-based activism, giving money (unfortunately), etc. But on election day, you have two choices. One: stay home and be counted among the masses of non-voters. You'll be labeled apathetic by the media and people will shrug about the inability of young people to participate in our democracy. You will be guaranteed zero influence on the election. Two: vote for the candidate of your choice, and have a say in a historic election. Set an example, stake a claim in your government, and influence the election to the benefit of the candidate that you see as most qualified to lead the country.
KEEP IT UP. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the progressive majority won't be either. Nov. 5 probably won't feel much different from the day before, kind of like the day after your birthday (Don't you feel SO old? No, you don't.) We'll still have tons of work to do and hopefully the momentum to start immediately. Keep in touch with people you meet on the trail and join activist organizations on campus. Let's ensure that our representatives actually live up to their lofty promises. This election, we can build the leverage to force the issues.
Sarah Leonard is a Columbia College junior majoring in history. Kate Redburn is a Columbia College junior majoring in history and African studies. Shock and Awe runs alternate Tuesdays. Opinion@columbiaspectator.com