Earlier this week I attempted to re-watch the music video for Shallow from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s masterpiece “A Star is Born” for the 76th time, but was interrupted by a ten-second clip of an elderly white woman asking me to vote for “Marsy’s Law.” In those ten seconds, I heard the words “Marsy’s Law” for the first time, learned that it was a N.C. constitutional amendment, and learned that its stated purpose was to provide equal rights for crime victims. I immediately made a mental note to ask a Prattstar friend how to install AdBlocker. Then I began to research Marsy’s Law, and the rest of the constitutional amendments being voted on in North Carolina.
While reading up on North Carolina politics, I realized how little these issues affected me personally even though I have the ability to vote on them. Marsy’s Law will affect crime victims and people accused of felonies, two groups I do not expect to join any time soon. A significant impact of Marsy’s Law will be an increase in incarceration, which will negatively affect lower-income communities and people of color as mass incarceration has done in the past. As a Duke student from out-of-state, I am detached from poor communities in North Carolina but I am able to vote on legislation that has considerable impacts on them. Many of my peers are in a similar situation, where because of location and/or privilege we do not feel the impacts of our ballots.
Duke students have a cushion of privilege, some more than others, that allows us to be less affected by political change than disadvantaged communities. Many of us do not worry about issues such as housing, crime laws or insurance (until recently) in the same way that other citizens worry about those issues and subsequently vote on them. Our voter turnout rate has been lower than other universities in the state, despite widely-professed student body interest in politics. This could be attributed to the large out-of-state presence, or to student indifference towards politics in general. A student indifference to politics makes sense given the distance between political impacts and our lives. For many of us, our biggest everyday concerns are grades and careers, and voting in a midterm election likely won’t affect either of those. The avenues that we take to better our quality of life is typically through our institution, not our local governments.
Despite not being affected by political change to the same degree as other citizens, we have an undeniable responsibility to vote for political change. If there is nothing in your life motivating you to vote, then vote for others who will feel the strongest impacts of change. We need to understand that it’s a privilege to not care about politics and need to counteract the mindset of not caring. We also need to appreciate the ease at which we can cast a ballot compared to other citizens. With Voter ID laws and transportation barriers, low-income communities have long been kept from voting. Election Day is also during the workday for many workers, which prevents people who can’t take time off from voting.
Casting a ballot is infinitely easier for people with more privilege, yet they feel the impacts to a smaller degree. Thus,Duke students have a responsibility to vote in the interests of minority communities who face barriers to participating in our democracy. One of the constitutional amendments on the ballot is to require photo ID when voting in person, a method historically used for decades to suppress the minority vote. We need to use our privilege to vote as a means of ensuring the right to vote for people whose livelihood depends on political change.
This midterm, I will not be voting in North Carolina, but instead proudly voting in my home state of Texas. One of the most-debated issues for Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke is immigration. The outcome of this Senate race will hardly affect my personal life as I am 1,000 miles away and a Duke student. If Cruz wins I will be disheartened, but my quality of life will not change.
Border security and immigrant rights are not issues that affect me, but I will be voting for Beto who supports the rights of undocumented immigrants. I am motivated to vote since those people do not have a voice yet are members of my Texas community, and my vote will impact their futures.
It is crucial that as a privileged person I understand that the stakes of politics are vastly higher for others than me. When I get emotionally exhausted from following news cycles, I can choose to detach myself from politics. Disadvantaged citizens cannot escape the tiring battle of politics. They have to constantly vote and fight for their livelihood, and in North Carolina, even for their right to vote.
I will cast my ballot for minority communities, listening to their voices and observing which candidates or measures have support from minority interest groups. I encourage people who cannot muster up the motivation to vote to understand that their luxury of political indifference is not shared by all. The theoretical perspective on politics we enjoy in academia is starkly different from the day-to-day life of many citizens. A vote is an opportunity to apply our knowledge to enact real change with only thirty minutes of our time. To me that is profoundly exciting.
Nathan Heffernan is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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