Playing Politics: If they want change, people must vote first

Lily Vaughan | Daily Trojan

Two years ago, the USC College Democrats hosted then-Attorney General Kamala Harris at a rally at Ronald Tutor Campus Center; in January, the 49th Empowerment Congress hosted a gubernatorial debate between six of the major contenders for the California gubernatorial election here at USC. This Friday, the USC College Democrats and the Unruh Associates are hosting Lt. Gov. of California Gavin Newsom for a campaign event as part of his run for the governor’s seat. What we can then conclude, of course, is something USC and its students so often fail to acknowledge: This campus is politically important and politically relevant — even if the general campus reputation is one of a student body remarkably less engaged than those events would suggest.

Nonetheless, part of being the preeminent college campus in Southern California is getting to enjoy the interest of major campaigns as they walk through our brick-laden corridors and address jubilant crowds in our auditoriums. But none of this means much if the students on campus fail to acknowledge and become active in the face of the state’s most major ongoing campaigns: the open gubernatorial seat and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection.

Although I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — in my book, part of what was wrong with the Bernie Revolution movement of 2016 is that summative overhaul of the preexisting political system — the interaction of the parties, interest groups, lobbying efforts, state-level governments, non-governmental organizations and all — cannot really come from the top unless someone has taken the time to lay the groundwork at the bottom. You can’t pay no mind to any of your local, district or statewide races, wake up to the presidential election and suddenly demand radical change.

Newsom — if he is elected to the governor’s office — will have a dramatically stronger impact on your day-to-day life either as a student here or a California resident, if you are one, than ongoing political trends at the national level. The federal system exists because of this; local and statewide powers have a much easier time tangibly affecting you.

Yet, much of the attendance of the Empowerment Congress, and the gubernatorial debate that accompanied it, can be attributed to established adults in the local community who commuted to our campus for that purpose. But why weren’t more of our 19,000 undergraduate students packing and clamoring to get in?

Similarly, turnout for USG elections continues to dwindle — last year it stood below 30 percent. Despite the fanfare that often involves major elections, it would seem to the casual observer that most of the interest in larger campaigns must not be issue-based as we so claim — otherwise, wouldn’t the much more relevant statewide or local election receive at least a majority of that popularity? As politics slowly becomes another realm of reality entertainment, it’s hard to see whether the trend will shift in the opposite — and in my opinion, correct — direction.

We have the very fortunate advantage of attending a university campus that is large and influential enough to matter. We have the added benefit of existing in one of California’s most major cities, one with the population numbers, seminal industries and economic drive to remain highly relevant on most if not all top-billed issues and agendas.

We wouldn’t have access to a Gavin Newsom or Antonio Villaraigosa or a Kamala Harris at Sonoma State — not the way we do here. It would be a deeply unfortunate mistake of ours, for our time left here, if we didn’t take advantage of these opportunities.

To decide politics and civic engagement are beneath your so keenly-cultivated interest, and down-ballot politics even more so, is to throw away your voice in the future of our democracy and any hope you may have had in its ability to represent you. The system exists in a plain nature: If you don’t vote to protect your interests, they will become unimportant, and your needs will cease to be relevant. As the gubernatorial and senatorial races move forward, take advantage of the natural opportunities arriving at your doorstep. Pay attention and, for the millionth time, vote.

Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.