Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry rallied students to vote Wednesday in the Marvin Center, launching a University campaign to get all students to register to vote for the 2004 presidential election. Following Barry’s speech, about 100 students “stormed” freshman residence halls to register voters.
Barry said 18- to 24-year-old voters facilitated his victory in 1994. Barry stepped down from office in 1990 after being arrested on misdemeanor drug charges. He then won the 1994 mayoral race.
“We cannot underestimate the powers that we have,” said Barry, who spoke for 20 minutes on the importance of voting. “You could be responsible for who could be the president of the United States next year.”
The University’s voting campaign – GW Votes – consists of about 20 student organizations and has helped register more than 800 students to vote since the beginning of the semester.
“I don’t care if people register Republican or Democrat or Independent,” said Bernard Demczuk, assistant vice president for D. C. Affairs and co-chair of the GW Votes steering committee. “I care that students not allow the Congress and the City Council and the White House and the Mayor’s office to dictate their lives without their voice. That’s what this is all about.”
Demczuk said Barry helped register 10,000 young voters in 1994.
“We have the greatest potential – this is the largest youth group since the baby boomers,” said Edward Buckley, associate vice president of the Student Association. “We chose this motto because if there was ever a time in history that we have had so much potential that we are not using, it’s today.”
Following the rally, GW Votes volunteers visited Thurston, Lafayette and Somers halls and the Hall on Virginia Avenue, going door-to-door to register students.
Barry declined an invitation to join students on the rally in the residence halls.
Freshman Kate Wolf, who lives on the ninth floor of Thurston Hall, registered to vote when a volunteer knocked on her friend’s door. Wolf said she has been 18 and eligible to vote for about a year but has not registered because “it just wasn’t convenient.”
“I didn’t know anything about it and there were no big elections going on,” Wolf said.
GW Votes volunteers registered 10 freshmen to vote on the ninth floor of Thurston. About 250 freshmen registered by the end of the night.
“It is very important to remember, though, that this is far bigger than voter registration,” Buckley said. “Voter registration is just one component. This is about civic engagement.”
GW Votes leaders said their goal of registering 100 percent of the eligible student population is unique for a major university.
” I think it’s historic. I don’t know of any other campuses that are saying that they are going to register 100 percent,” Demczuk said. “We hope that GW Votes will inspire the other campuses and other students to be registered to vote and to utilize their political strength in their own self-interest.”
The Program Board, SA, Student Alliance for Israel, Black Student Union and College Republicans and Democrats are among the groups participating in the drive.
GW Votes is planning a party in the Hippodrome for the New Hampshire primary results. Participating groups will be holding voting drives through the primary elections.
Wednesday evening’s event was the official kickoff for the GW Votes campaign on campus.