Democracy is dead in America. That is, if democracy is truly rule, deliberation and judgment by the people and for the people, then the United States hardly fits this description. I say this not because of any failures of our government, not because of partisan gridlock in congress and not because of any perceived lack of freedom or ingrained prejudices our nation might still have. Rather, I say this for one reason only: we don’t vote.
In the 2012 presidential election, over 90 million eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot. In the 2014 midterm elections, the national voter turnout was 36.3 percent, a 72-year low according to the New York Times. That means almost two thirds of Americans did not contribute to electing the Congress that we are now stuck with on Capitol Hill. People often criticize that our government has become too polarized, but why is this the case? Maybe it is because only the most passionate on the right or left are the ones actually going to the polls. Maybe the mentality that “my one vote doesn’t matter anyway” has taken over the nation. Or maybe people just don’t care anymore. If big money decides elections anyway, as many now claim, then what’s the point?
Has power by the people become a thing of the past? I sure hope not. While our political apathy may have made us question the true value of our right to vote, we must not forget the origins of this political responsibility. Originally, only white property-owning males were allowed to vote. Non-property owners, African-Americans and women fought and even risked their lives for centuries to obtain universal suffrage. We praise the United States for being a beacon of diversity, opportunity and expression. We sing the Star-Spangled Banner in unity to show our love for the freedom this country affords. Why is it then that the most critical song we hold — our vote — is no longer sung?
As Yalies, we pride ourselves on our unique personalities and passions. There are so many incredible things we have done and are capable of doing during our four years here, and yet, we too neglect to use to use our political voice. We too have lost the ability to sing. Voter turnout was only about 20 percent in the Ward 1 elections of 2013. The Ward 1 alder is our liaison to the city. Our representative has the potential to make substantive change in New Haven by coordinating the efforts of the student body. While the separation of the real world of New Haven, the city, and the artificial world of Yale, the bubble, is obvious to anyone, our opinions on how to bridge that divide are mixed. On one hand, there is the view that students from around the country don’t have the right to influence New Haven, a city whose history and problems can’t be fully understood by our temporary presence here; however, there is also the view that Yale students, with our drive and talent, should help improve the community that we call home. I think there are merits to both answers. After all, Yalies are always busy with social activities, class commitments and our preparation for life after college. It’s unreasonable to suggest that every student should feel an inherent obligation to go into the city of New Haven to volunteer their time and effort in the hopes of improvement.
However, I do feel that we have a moral duty to sing with our vote. And by that, I mean voting in the Ward 1 election. This is a simple, yet important way that Yalies can help to raise the level of public discourse in New Haven. It isn’t difficult to take five minutes to research Ugonna Eze ’16 and Sarah Eidelson ’12 and compare the two. With our vote, we’re deciding who will do the best job of coordinating student efforts at Yale in a way that can also improve this great city that we are a part of. That’s worth taking five minutes to think about.
Leland Stange is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .