There is an ideological rift forming in the tectonic plates of American politics. But as candidates polarize their vision for the direction of our country, many eligible voters become a silent majority wandering aimlessly through a center gutted out into a No Mans Land.
In these conditions, disenfranchisement spreads like a pandemic.
Last night at Heritage Hall, Jay Paterno and Coquese Washington told students what’s at stake in this upcoming election — constantly hammering in the adage that if you don’t make it to the polls on Nov. 6th, the forces of the status quo will govern without your consent.
Issues ranging from the conflict in Syria to national health care policy will be decided upon without your input. The face that comes to mind when the world hears the letters U.S.A., will be determined without your agreement.
Their message rang hallow through a room half empty. Attendance almost equaled the blinding stage lights and flash bulbs of the media covering the event. An entire row was occupied by the Penn State glee club who sang the Star Spangled Banner to kick off the night then made their exit.
Instead of the nightly news segments and rants on talk radio, the open student forum hosted by PSU Votes wasn’t a depiction of what’s wrong with those in office, but what is wrong with us — the constituents.
Coquese Washington, the first black female head coach of the Lady Lions basketball team, told an anecdote of the person who first made her realize the importance of civic engagement — her father. While Washington’s childhood was set in the General Motors boom town of Flint, Michigan in the 70’s, her father had a much different upbringing in Mobile, Alabama.
Mr. Washington loved to take Coquese on tours of his old stomping grounds when they’d visit the South in her youth, showing off the baseball field where he shared the diamond with the legendary Hank Aaron in his school yard years. But on one occasion his reminiscing took a more serious tone.
Washington’s father showed his daughter the pool he couldn’t swim in, the water fountains he couldn’t drink from, and the restaurants he couldn’t eat at in his youth because of the color of his skin. He even revealed to her the story of relatives being met with the water cannons and attack dogs of oppression for publicly marching for racial equality.
Though this was Washington’s first lesson in the importance of voting, the sentiment stuck.
“Because of the power of a vote, I can swim in any pool, drink from any water fountain and I can be the head coach of the Lady Lions basketball team,” said Washington.
Jay Paterno echoed Washigton in saying, “on voting day we’re all viewed as the same.”
“In the voting booth we find our most cherished belief that all men are created equal,” said Paterno.
Outlining the linage of representative democracy in America, Paterno demonstrated how our right to vote evolved over our nation’s 236 year existence. He began with voting’s birth as an early privilege exclusive to white, land-owning males and progressed through the Civil War, the suffrage movement, and up to the current state of affairs where having proper identification is the biggest encroachment on voting rights.
Our freedom came at a cost, a history riddled with blood shed and equally bloody national debate. Paterno drove home the question, how could you let something of that value go to waste?
“That is your treasure, the voice of your vote,” Paterno concluded.