Oberlin’s passion for elections
Oberlin students put a huge amount of effort, energy and emotion into this year’s presidential election but most wishes for the outcome were left unfulfilled. Take heart, Oberlin, we are now part of the long tradition of Obies being the active opposition.
Many have commented on this election year being remarkable for its student participation. Even more remarkable was the 1972 election year, because it was the first election that allowed 18-to-21 year olds to vote. This was the year of the now-infamous McGovern versus Nixon race.
Earlier that year the Oberlin Youth Caucus, OYC, was formed and immediately into the ’72-’73 year it swung into action with huge voter registration drives both on and off campus. An important issue was registering people to vote in Ohio as opposed to their hometowns, not because of any political significance but because it was simply easier. Although one could theoretically vote absentee, there was no reliable system in place to do so.
Additionally, the OYC put together and distributed “election handbooks.” These identified key senatorial and congressional races and the main issues that were at stake in them. It also included analysis of the presidential campaigns and candidate bios. Also, although the OYC had to remain technically nonpartisan in order to receive funding, after President Richard Nixon resumed bombing North Vietnam, the organization had a dual role, establishing the War Protest Information Center.
The most innovative thing to come out of the OYC was proposed in the spring of ’72 and put into practice in the fall. It was a program in the government department called “Practicum in Electoral Politics.” It allowed students from all four years working on campaigns full-time to receive 12 hours of academic credit. Nine students worked until Nov. 7 and then returned to campus for in-depth analysis with an advisor.
In this nonpartisan proposal, seven students worked for George McGovern and two worked for Democratic congressional campaigns.
McGovern advocates were the strongest, most effective political activists on campus and very little activity was completely nonpartisan. In the spring they had begun canvassing and several stayed though their Spring Break. A local barbershop was turned into the town-College run McGovern/Shriver headquarters. There was massive canvassing, phone banking, andfundraising, as well as a voter registration campaign directly aimed at students.
Every single week leading up to the election at least one article would appear in the Review about election issues ending without a call to arms, inciting the readers to volunteer, donate money to or simply vote for McGovern. The articles were occasionally nothing more than PSAs. Nixon supporters were all but invisible except for one editorial.
Although students worked hard they remained realistic. One article read, “Even the most optimistic agree that it is going to take a lot of hard work to get McGovern to carry Ohio in November.”
“The contrast between the two presidential candidates in this election year is a profound one, moving beyond the images that have been portrayed to the public,” another said.
It cited Nixon’s “paternalistic” approach and McGovern’s call for a “higher degree of contribution and participation from the people.” It continued: “The lesser of two evils...many are disillusioned with McGovern...who previously stood for honesty and right against those who perpetrated war but now stands for the sellouts of Eagleton, welfare and abortion reform.”
When McGovern finally and inevitably lost, the Review conducted a survey of 30 students asking, “What is your reaction to the presidential election?” Apparently, most couldn’t help but laugh. Answers ranged from “favorable” to “extremely depressed.” There was an approximate ratio of three to one McGovern to Nixon supporters. Most students seemed to agree with one junior: “It’s a sad commentary on the American people.”
One article attempted to speak words of comfort:
“Four more years of Richard Nixon will not bring the apocalypse. They
will bring significant changes, especially in the realm of foreign policy. They
will not, however, determine the political direction of the U.S. for the distant
future. Just as we have gone from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson and now to
Nixon, we will go to new men of varying conceptions of America’s role to
the world and herself.”