The Power of Engagement

With the Democratic primaries now in full swing after Super Tuesday, both the presidential candidates and the electorate are looking towards the next handful of states in anticipation of deciding the primary’s ultimate winner. Yesterday,  14 states including Massachusetts, Texas and California, voted for their favorite Democratic candidate — a crucial milestone for candidates, as the winner of these states will most likely march onward with the momentum necessary to clinch the nomination. Many of the results that occurred across the country could be attributed to the tireless efforts of activists and volunteers engaging in our democratic process, demonstrating the need for critical civil engagement in the modern era. 

With the importance of Super Tuesday, campaigns have furiously fought to ramp up voter turnout. The presence of the Democratic primaries has clearly pierced the Amherst College bubble. From students tabling for Senator Bernie Sanders in Val to the unceasing YouTube ads for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the incessant calls from former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, to say that campaigns have been active in vying for constituents’ votes would be a grave understatement. With so much at stake both in the Democratic primary as well as the general election in November, this upcoming election may very well be one of the most important in our lives. The time for civil engagement, both on a national and local level, is ripe for our generation; students should not waste this valuable opportunity.

For many Amherst students, the upcoming 2020 presidential election will be the first one in which we are eligible to vote. The U.S. has grown increasingly more polarized as a result of President Donald Trump’s surprising win in 2016, both on a national level and here on campus. 

Polling on a variety of national issues and events have shown that many voters have decidedly dug in their ideological heels, often in response to the polarizing and bombastic rhetoric used by our elected officials both in the White House and in Congress. The recent impeachment trial of President Trump, which ultimately concluded with his acquittal in the Senate, is indicative of this trend. Despite the overwhelming witness testimony, documents and even admissions by Trump himself on the charges made by the House of Representatives, national polling indicated that Americans were generally steadfast in their views on the impeachment process, reaching only a high of 51 percent in favor of removal at the height of the proceedings.

Even on campus, the polarization of our national politics has lasting and often emotional impacts on our student body. The protests surrounding former Attorney General Jeff Session’s visit to campus in 2019 serves as just one example of the campus political environment. The fact that politics has pervaded nearly every aspect of our lives — from our classes to our dorms — indicates just how much is at stake in the next election and Democratic primary.

Historically, student voter turnout across the nation has been abysmally low. Despite the facts that many important federal policies on a variety of issues — including the climate crisis, rising healthcare cost, and higher education reform — may very well have a disproportionate impact on voters in our generation, national student voter turnout in 2018 was only at 40 percent, which was a massive increase from the dismal 19 percent turnout in 2014. The college is not an exception to this trend. In 2018, 41 percent of the student body at the college voted in the midterm elections, contrasted to 9.5 percent in 2014, according to ACVotes, a student campaign focused on providing voter registration resources and assistance to Amherst students. 

At the same time, while we view the upcoming primary and general elections important, the Editorial Board encourages students to also consider civic engagement on the local level. With the recent visit by the town councilors at a recent Association of Amherst Students Senate (AAS) meeting to discuss the planned low-income housing project set to be built near Pratt Field, we support the notion that local engagement in the Amherst community is just as important as activism on national issues. 

As a result of The Student’s coverage of Valley CDC’s affordable housing proposal, many students and groups on campus sent outpourings of support in favor of the project’s funding and completion. While the Town Council ultimately voted to fund the project and its fate currently lies in state hands through the State Housing Innovations Fund, it is important to realize that the relevance of local civic engagement has not ended here. 

As an institution, the college has struggled to maintain and foster the vital town-gown relations that our peer institutions have. Civic engagement may serve as just one pillar to growing campus-town relations in the future. The 2020 election, despite its overwhelming importance, will ultimately end after this November. The college’s presence in the Town of Amherst will not.

<em>Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board </em><em>(assenting: 14; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 0)</em><br>