A shameful 19.9 percent of citizens ages 18 to 29 turned out to vote in the 2014 elections. Similarly, only 22.4 percent of the freshman class voted in Duke Student Government Senate elections. One year later, for the same freshman senator elections, only 19.4 percent of the Class of 2019 electorate actually voted.
Clearly, young people do not like to vote.
The overwhelming proportion of youth backing of Bernie Sanders, which has created a conspicuous presence on social media, coupled with the fact that, according to The Atlantic, “the youth … can indeed be a tipping point [in elections],” ironically act in stark contrast to the reality of youth voter participation. Even on Duke’s campus, there is only a nascent movement to engage college students in political affairs.
Only two of three candidates who ran for 2016-2017 Duke Student Government President had registered to vote as of last Friday. This alone speaks volumes on our student leadership, the culture of the wider Duke community and our overall investment in Durham.
Laziness is the explanation for abysmal youth-voter turnouts; youth today are amongst the most “young, active and techy.” Rather, the idea of voting lacks immediacy—a mentality that pervades our understanding of current political affairs. With that, it is time to say “enough” to the amalgamation of apathy, frustration and ignorance that has resulted in laughable voter turnouts.
It is important to note that despite the thriving culture of politics on the Internet, many young voters do not vote because of the laws that work against them. New voting restrictions in many states make it harder for eligible voters to actually vote, though on Duke’s campus, the mere demographics and resources available to students suggest another narrative.
When Duke students launch campaigns based on "popping the Duke bubble," the attention directed towards fostering understandings of our home are disappointing, if not deceptive. Duke students are tragically sheltered in their understanding and exposure of the Durham we live in.
The difficult-to-navigate public transit system is not the only thing connecting Duke to Durham. The schools that we volunteer at are the product of ongoing gentrification. Many of our professors are living in houses downtown whose prices have risen 100 percent to 400 percent in the past ten years. Our 9th Street dinner options are a culmination of one of the world’s most inventive and tastiest food scene, and even the members of Duke Parking and Transportation Services (that our administration can uncontestably disrespect and hit with silver Porches) are Durham community members. Duke is a part of Durham and hence its problems should be regarded as ours too.
Youth activism and political engagement is paramount to the establishment of a community order whereby young people address their concerns and influence policy decisions related to their future housing, employment and educational opportunities. The same goes to our investment in issues affecting Duke staff and local small businesses. Thus, it is critical that we as students take part in these local elections.
There will be many contests and referenda on the ballots you submit in the coming days; the North Carolina primary election takes place on March 15, and early voting begins today at the Freeman Center. Take the time to look beyond the first two most seemingly potent votes, and look into, for example, the County Commissioners' race for five seats.
One Commissioner running for re-election is Wendy Jacobs. A Duke alumna and founder of the Duke Coffeehouse, Jacobs has worked for environmental conservation, poverty reduction, the preservation of Durham’s social services, Durham workforce development and more. More specifically, she is committed to addressing the issues of gentrification and affordable housing. After urban renewal funds stemming from the Housing Act of 1949 were mishandled and used to displace traditionally African-American communities in Durham and throughout the nation, Jacobs wants to reverse the course of these changes and ensure prosperity for all sectors of our community.
To me, the most important demonstration of Durham’s commitment to equity is the 2016-17 Durham County budget. In tutoring at several public schools in Durham, I have worked with first graders who confide that they are “too hungry” to focus on reading. Furthermore, the supplementary breakfast provided is insufficient—in effect, Durham Public Schools needs more funding. Last year, Jacobs voted against the County budget since it did not give DPS the requested amount of local funding—a valiant act to put a dent in the cycle of poverty and the under equipped DPS education system.
In effect, the issues we investigate can lead to greater consciousness and action on Durham affairs. Thus, from now till the end of voting, challenge yourself to truly ‘pop the Duke bubble.’
My final call is two-fold. Firstly, vote; same-day registration is still an option with simply one government-issued piece of identification. Yes, there are people making it difficult for us to act on our right to vote. However, instead of self-silencing and sitting passively, take action. Learn more at the N.C. Voter Guide website here.
Secondly, I implore you to explore the full extent of the ballots you receive. A front-runner of the North Carolina gubernatorial race, Democratic Attorney Roy Cooper, has asked for a “pause” on Syrian refugees coming to North Carolina. Still, the most progressive community organization in Durham, the People's Alliance Political Action Committee voted to endorse him. The intricacies of Durham politics are in many ways reflective of the Washington D.C. political scene. Look beyond party affiliations and challenge yourself to make informed decisions on leaders who will shape your greater community.
Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity freshman. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.
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Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.