I hope everyone had a good summer. And I wish you all the best in the coming academic year.
As you all know, this is a presidential election year. The campaign will kick into overdrive in the days and weeks ahead. Because Ohio is a crucial swing state, we’re already getting barraged with political commercials on TV and radio, robo calls, and emails from parties, and candidates.
Annoying as those can be, and as depressing as what passes for political discourse has been, I am writing to encourage everyone to engage with the political process and get out and vote come Election Day.
Engaging with the democratic process is a key aspect of our institutional mission. Oberlin College and Conservatory have always aimed to educate the whole person to achieve excellence as an individual and as a citizen of a democracy.
We do this by providing an exceptionally broad and deep liberal arts and/or Conservatory education. We teach students to be innovative, interdisciplinary thinkers, and engaged citizens. We teach them to value facts and evidence, and to think critically. And we teach them to see the world from multiple viewpoints.
Our hope is that studying at Oberlin will profoundly expand their understanding of life, the world, and themselves. We also help them connect what they learn, do, and experience here with their communities, and with the wider world.
Oberlin students, faculty, and alumni have a long track record of using their education to drive their activism in their communities around the world. But building and maintaining our community or any community requires some things from all of us. It requires engagement, work, kindness, respect, and the willingness to listen with an open mind and heart to every person’s story.
Those attributes also apply when discussing difficult subjects such as inequality, gender, race, and justice. We want to have those discussions here. They’re not easy. But they’re important. Talking about difficult subjects is the first step to generating ideas and consensus about how to move our society forward.
But to make progress on any issue—whether it is inequality, race, justice, climate change, immigration or education—there must be action—such as voting.
Voting can make an enormous difference in our communities. It is also crucial for the future of our country and our world. Obviously, there is a lot at stake in this year’s election, at the national, state, and local levels.
Despite the stakes, I’ve read suggestions by some people that voting doesn’t matter or that by not voting a person can register their objection to the current system which is plagued by partisan rancor and gridlock.
We need more voter participation not less. Voting is a fundamental right. People in countries around the world have fought and died just to have the right to vote. Scores of Oberlinians have given their lives defending what President Abraham Lincoln described in the Gettysburg Address as government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Not voting means you are surrendering your right and silencing your voice.
That wasn’t what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was advocating when he gave Oberlin’s Commencement speech in June 1965. He urged our community to raise their voices for freedom, and to engage in the great work of civil rights and human rights. And many Oberlinians answered his call. They traveled to the South to register Black voters, and to rebuild churches and homes that had been firebombed.
The Civil Rights movement didn’t shun voting. It embraced the political process. The movement’s leaders worked towards specific political goals—including voting rights.
The outcome of those efforts was the Voting Rights Act. That landmark legislation was passed in the wake of the violence unleashed on peaceful protest marchers in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
The Voting Rights Act produced meaningful change in so many ways. Here in Oberlin, on a November night in 2008, we witnessed one of the biggest celebrations in Oberlin history when Barack Obama was elected president. I doubt that would have happened without the Voting Rights Act.
But not too long ago, the Supreme Court struck down key core provisions of the act. To me, that decision and the future composition of the Supreme Court are compelling reasons for voting in this election.
Over the past decade, Oberlin students have been leaders in helping ensure voting rights for college students in Ohio. Current students, you can carry on that tradition by registering to vote either here or in your hometowns. Please take full advantage of your opportunities to become an engaged and informed citizen on campus and in the wider Oberlin community. Please register to vote and exercise your right in November. Let your voice be heard. For more information visit the Lorain County Board of Elections website.
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