Needless to say, Friend is impressive. He holds an M.B. from Georgetown University, has worked extensively on both Barack Obama and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, has served on the White House Council of Economic Advisors, and has worked for Congressman Sam Farr and the Democratic National Committee.
It’s a lot to have accomplished at the age of 33. Before the White House and the Ivy Leagues, Friend was a graduate of UC Santa Cruz.
The reason I bring up Friend is because of what he said to me last April. Without getting into political bias, I believe he articulated an issue that has become fraught in collegiate culture. Friend’s last three words ring eminently true: “Students say that they don’t vote because candidates don’t deal with issues surrounding them, but really, candidates don’t deal with these issues because students don’t vote.”
So who came first? The candidate, or the voter? Or more appropriately, who is in charge of whom?
Sadly, Friend is right. Many students do not vote and because of this, the candidate is in charge of the voter.
Now, why doesn’t that bother us? Why don’t students take issue with the fact that our insouciance toward local government is how local government is able to ignore student concerns?
A big part of it may be that our concerns are limited as young students to issues like tuition, and not much else.
So why concern yourself with local politics?
My answer is this: with over 17,000 students on campus, students have the potential to do something big — to have a real impact on the community.
And if you don’t think there are any political issues that could affect your life in four short years, think again.
In the past three months alone there have been 493 crimes committed in the Santa Cruz area. Of these 493 reported crimes, 159 have been related to assault, 23 have been related to robbery, and 15 have been related to sex crime. Safety is a big issue for Santa Cruzans, and there is always a debate about which measures effectively stop crime and which ones — like bringing in Immigration and Customs Enforcement or criminalizing the houseless — just go too far. If you don’t bother to vote or otherwise get involved, you’re out of the conversation.
Hand in hand with safety is transportation. In 2011 the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District board of directors eliminated all Night Owl bus routes, and only by the grace of Transportation and Parking Services were late night routes continued.
And what about the arts? Santa Cruz happens to be a city that issues free street performance permits to anyone who wants one and does not even require permits for smaller performances who can set up quickly. Other cities are not so lucky. Santa Monica, home to Venice beach, requires a $37 fee to obtain a permit that allows you to perform in public. Even Chicago, the hometown of Paul Butterfield and Herbie Hancock, requires performers to cough up $100 for a permit that allows them to play in public. Local government controls it all.
What these issues have in common is that they can be addressed by elected officials — the kind of elected officials that student voters can influence. The issues may not all be huge, but they are real.
So long as students do not vote, the candidates are in charge. It doesn’t have to be that way. Vote. Let yourself be heard. Let them be afraid of what you can do.