Last Thursday’s rally with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean represents one of the many exciting opportunities GW students have to be part of the American political process. During the rally, Sen. Kerry and Gov. Dean repeatedly spoke of the importance of young people to the presidential election and American politics at large. And while candidates have consistently outlined empowering young people as a priority, historically, little action has followed such claims.
College students are an important constituency in American politics. Like every other interest group, college students have issue priorities, and they are knowledgeable and passionate about those issues; thus, students expect to be taken seriously. Students care about the environment, they care about having a job after they graduate, and they care about having health care. The biggest mistake a contemporary politician can make is to marginalize college students by talking down to them. But many politicians do exactly that, which has led to the disturbingly widespread trend of voter apathy.
Gov. Dean catapulted to the top of the Democratic presidential field by recognizing the power of college students. He was successful in reaching out to college students and in empowering them to take a role in forming their future. Politicians on both sides of the aisle should follow Gov. Dean’s example. Showing college students that they do have an effect on the future of America will help alleviate voter apathy.
The GW Votes initiative is noble and necessary. Registering students to vote is the first step in the process of engaging them in the political process. What GW Votes does not do, however, is energize students about the possibility to change their country. Rallies like Thursday’s are a step in the right direction, but GW should actively pursue future opportunities – perhaps even bringing President George W. Bush to campus for a similar event – as a means to energize GW’s student body about American politics.