Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) student Jaime Rodriguez is not particularly enthused about any of the candidates running for President of the United States. Still, there is nothing that would stop him from casting his vote in November 8 election, he says.
“If you don’t vote, you have no grounds to complain about policies you don’t like,” said Rodriguez, a 25-year-old BMCC Liberal Arts major who grew up in Brooklyn.
Millennial voters continue to have the lowest voter turnout of any age group according to an analysis of U.S. census data from the Pew Research Center. Only about 46 percent voted in the last presidential election. And now, recent polls and media reports suggest that younger voters are increasingly disillusioned by their choices in the 2016 presidential campaign. In a tight race, those votes could determine who wins in November.
“I confront my friends who say they aren’t voting. No matter what, somebody will be elected, and although it may not be your first choice, one of them has values closer to your own,” said Rodriguez.
CUNY launches Vote for Your Future campaign
BMCC professors, activist organizations and politically engaged students have been working to register students to vote before the October 14 deadline. They say the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential race could have a tremendous impact on the day-to-day lives of young people in New York and across the country.
Students can register online through CUNY’s Vote for Your Future campaign, or in person at the BMCC Office of Student Affairs, which has also hosted two voter registration drives. Meanwhile, student volunteers from the BMCC chapter of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) continue to register students on campus. Since the first day of class, they have registered more than 1,000 students to vote, according to BMCC NYPIRG project coordinator Tousif Ahsan.
“Many BMCC students are dissatisfied with their choices in the upcoming election, which is precisely why they need to get out and vote,” said Ahsan.
He says if BMCC and CUNY students want to voice dissent about political policies, they must vote and then hold their government leaders accountable.
“Young people, including BMCC students, have so much to gain by voting in this election but even more to lose if they don’t vote,” said Deborah Gambs, Professor of Sociology, BMCC.
She estimates around half her students are apathetic about voting. They are more focused on the daily issues of school, work and family and disillusioned with the current campaign finance system. But Gambs stresses there are many areas where the next president could have an impact and that voting can make a difference.
Professors stress the importance of voting in this election
“Student loan debt policies and the possibility of free community college impacts BMCC students. Many students and their families are affected by immigration policy, an area where the two major candidates have tremendous differences,” said Gambs.
She said BMCC students have been very active in fighting for the Dream Act and increased rights for students whose parents came to the U.S. without proper paperwork, a policy position that could be radically changed depending on who is elected president.
“While the millennial generation is hardly enthusiastic about this year’s presidential election, the outcome of the 2016 race will have an impact on their lives,” said Heather James, Professor of Political Science, BMCC.
James cites four policy issues in particular that could be shaped by the next U.S. president. They include student loan interest rates and the cost of college, the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and our nation’s decaying infrastructure including New York City’s transit system.
“BMCC students are from incredibly diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds. In my classes, students seem most interested in presidential politics in reference to criminal justice reform, especially the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings, and mass incarceration,” said James.
Young voters are also concerned about economic issues and whether or not they will be able to find secure, good-paying jobs, James says. She also points out that tuition costs and the ability to refinance student loans are another policy area that will be impacted by the next president.
Iraq War veteran encourages others to fulfill civic duty
Corporal Irving Garzona, U.S. Army INF, a 36 –year-old BMCC Computer Science major who served two separate tours during the Iraq War says voting is every citizen’s duty. During his second deployment during the surge in 2007, Garzona was injured.
“I was unable to continue physically as a Dismount Team Leader in the Infantry, so I made the decision to get out,” said Garzona, who now works with a number of veterans groups advocating for better healthcare and social services for veterans.
Garzona said his time in the service helped him understand the extent to which U.S. foreign policy impacts the world. He said it also allowed him to comprehend, on a very intimate basis, that the world outside our borders can be a very dangerous place. He says that in itself, requires strong leadership.
He says a lot of people seem to take voting for granted, but as a veteran, Garzona says everyone has a duty to be involved in the political process.
“Nobody wants to be picked for jury duty when it's their time to serve. But everyone wants to have a good jury. It's the same concept in a sense. It's your job as a citizen to strengthen our system of government.”