What’s At Stake--Why Vote?
Heritage Hall--Penn State University
September 26, 2012
If I gave you a treasure with amazing value, incredible power and infused with the force of centuries of struggle—would you toss it aside? If I told you that men and women had fought, and suffered and even died to possess just a small slice of this treasure’s power—would you allow it to lay dormant and unused?
That is your challenge, that is your treasure—the voice of your vote.
Let’s go back to the early days of American Democracy—and to the words of the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
Famous words indeed—perhaps the most famous in our history--but let’s read on to the next segment:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.”
The Consent of the Governed.
Let me illustrate what that meant when our nation took her first timid steps into a brave new experiment in self-government.
All White men who own land please raise your hand.
To everyone else if you lived in those early days you couldn’t vote—so the people with their hands up represented what the consent of the governed meant then.
Across the centuries men fought and died in the Civil War for freedom and ultimately the right to vote. Jim Crow laws and poll taxes took that right away.
Susan B Anthony spearheaded a movement for women’s voting rights in 1869 but it wasn’t until 1920 that an amendment to the Constitution was ratified by enough states so that all women nationwide could vote.
In 1965 a century after the Civil War ended men and women held marches from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery to grasp the reins of their right to vote—a right given them in theory but denied them in reality. Across the South men and women, Blacks and Whites withstood clubs, fire hoses, and attack dogs all trying to stand up for the right to Vote.
The right to vote cost Revolutionary War soldiers their lives on fields across the thirteen colonies. It cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of men in the Civil War. In the Civil Rights movement it left many bruised, beaten, battered and bloody. It cost Martin Luther King, Jr and many other leaders their lives.
All to bequeath to you the right YOU Have—a treasure.
Look around the world. Look at people fighting and dying in Syria and you’ll see how much they value a right you have in your hands. Look at other nations where voters face threats and intimidation yet still participate in their elections.
It is a treasure.
When you line up at your poling place, your vote is no less valuable than the President of The United States, or the Chief Justice of The Supreme Court or the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the eyes of the law we are all equal with an equal say and an equal voice.
Stand next to a multi-millionaire or someone who has no money--there is no monetary value attached to your voice.
In the Voting Booth we truly find our most cherished founding belief “All Men Are Created Equal”.
It is an amazing gift but only if you use it.
Elections Matter because it is how we grant the power to govern—the CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED. Ultimately your chance to either grant or withdraw your consent comes only in the voting booth.
If you choose to turn from that power you relinquish your claim to the outcomes of the government.
If you don’t think elections matter think about all the hurdles that have been thrown up by Pennsylvania’s Voter I.D. Law—an idea favored by a legislature and governor elected by the people who turned out in 2010.
Consent of the governed……
There are issues that will impact your life now and issues that will impact it decades from now. Healthcare, social security, tax policy, the war in Afghanistan, jobs, the economy, energy policy, foreign policy and the fundamental philosophy on the role of government in society and the economy.
Many of you will graduate in the next year or two. When you go to grad school or get an internship under current law you can go on your parent’s health insurance. The outcome of this election may change that. Maybe you agree with that idea, maybe you don’t but if you don’t vote they will govern without your consent.
Years from now, medicare, Medicaid and social security may be different. You may not think it is important now but years from now do you want to look back and wish you had weighed in?
How should we react to Iran’s attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon? There is a distinct choice in the foreign policy goals of the candidates and whichever way you fall on the issue—you must vote or the winner of the election can govern without your consent.
Everyone focuses on the Presidential election, but there are real issues in other races and those Elections matter. There is a congressional race and a U.S. Senate race with clear differences. We have a state-wide Attorney General’s race that all Penn Staters should be closely following. We have learned the importance of that office in a very real way over the past ten months.
In 2008 the nation looked at a map of Pennsylvania and amid all the election results there was Centre County in the middle. It stood out from the surrounding counties in turnout. At the HUB where 11,000 students were registered over 8,000 showed up to vote. I know because I was there.
It was inspiring.
For years politicians could ignore young voters and pay special attention to older voters.
Because the perception was that young people were apathetic and didn’t vote. Four years ago that myth was shattered. The question now is will you keep that up? Will you continue to keep the voter turnout at Penn State strong?
If you look at some of the things that have happened for young people since that 2008 election there is a definite focus on the issues of student loans, pell grants, health care and education for people your age.
The Votes of College Students across the country commanded respect and produced results.
The results were from the power to influence government policy by voting and voting in numbers.
One of the great challenges in life is at the age of eighteen or twenty or twenty-two to try and look at decisions and actions in your life now and how they will impact your life when you are forty or fifty or sixty.
But when you choose to vote, you will never regret taking a step to voice your consent or withdraw your consent for those who will govern you.
Rest assured the results of the past few elections have altered the course of this state and this country. Whether you like or don’t like past results, only by voting can you impact the future course of this country.
The election is less than Six weeks away. It will be here before you know it. The deadline to register is less than two weeks away…that date is October 9th. There are people here who can help you, there are websites to help you register.
Thomas Jefferson once said “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Get educated on the issues that matter to you, get registered, think about your decision and then……show up and Vote. It is a mighty gift passed down over the ages—a gift that is in your hands.
Thank you very much.