Letter to the Editor: ‘Power to the people’

MU students and faculty describe the importance of voting in this election.

To say 2020 has been an emotionally draining year is an understatement. From the COVID-19 pandemic to public outrage due to the murders of unsuspecting Black people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by the police, many people are hoping for the last few months of the year to quietly fly by. Despite yearning for a sweet release from 2020, one more obligatory event seems to be anything but relaxing: the 2020 presidential election.

The potential election of former Vice President Joe Biden or re-election of President Donald Trump adds on to the stress of this year for various groups for different reasons. With news organizations, such as NPR, calling this election one of the most important in recent years, first-time voters are feeling the pressure to make their voices heard.

“In previous elections, I think it felt like it was a little safer if our preferred candidate didn’t win,” MU sophomore Taylor Bunch said. “Now, it feels dire because of the amount of presidential power that has been afforded over the last few years. It feels like the wrong president will be the tipping point, where in the past I felt better about the checks and balances system to keep things under control.”

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 resulted in a contentious and polarizing four years with his hardcore base showing unwavering support and his adversaries expressing disdain in his leadership capabilities. Gen Z and millennial voters are pushing to ensure that Trump is not re-elected for another term, some are just as apprehensive to cast their vote for former Vice President Biden. According to NBC, younger generations are largely opting to vote for Biden in this election, yet 41% of Generation Z and 41% of millennials generally disapprove of as a candidate.

“In 2016, I didn’t really understand why people our age wouldn’t vote,” MU freshman Evan Manhas said. “Now that we are in a similar situation with such polarizing candidates, I can honestly understand where the sentiment of not wanting to choose a candidate that doesn’t endorse your morals is coming from. Having the ability to vote now feels empowering, but that feeling is hampered by a choice that feels like it has one bad result and one that’s just worse.”

Although some Americans may feel reluctant to cast their vote and may forgo the opportunity to do so, marginalized groups do not believe they have that same privilege. For Black and brown communities, Trump’s presidency has been anything but uplifting. In the case of COVID-19, his poor response to the pandemic has left Black Americans dying double the rate of white Americans. Furthermore, President Trump’s willingness to label Black Lives Matter protestors “terrorists” and his inability to denounce white supremacy illuminated what they already knew: America is not a just or equitable nation built to serve communities of color.

“The escalating tensions around policing, law enforcement, criminal justice; all of that stuff [is] coming to a head with this election in powerful ways,” Keona Ervin, MU history associate professor said. “Not to mention a global pandemic that’s showing us racial disparity in a really powerful and stark kind of way. The rates of people who are getting sick, the rates of people who are passing away, show these legacies of racial trauma and racial violence.”

In her conversations with friends and family, many of them over 60, Ervin said they share the sentiment that “there’s a lot on the line.”

“I think they are fearful of political developments in society and feel like the vote is kind of the thing standing between us and a bleak future,” Ervin said. “The feeling is if you don’t vote, you’re signing up for a future you don’t want and you don’t want for your children.”

When it comes to people of color showing up to the polls, it is not only about the future they hope for in America, it is also about harkening back and honoring the people who fought for the opportunity to vote.

“I think when it’s older Black folks who are saying ‘this is so important’ … they bring a lot of that historical importance in terms of there were so many people who were killed and beaten and oppressed and who still fought against the system and, of course, I’m going to do exactly what they opened up the door for me to do,” Cristina Mislán said, an associate professor of journalism studies at MU.

“So, I think in that sense, there’s a sense of resiliency, [that] we have survived, we’ve gotten this far. We’re going to keep going, we’re going to keep trying to resist the system in whatever ways even if we disagree with how we do it.”

There isn’t naivety in voting. Whether or not President Trump is re-elected, America needs structural change to be truly great and equal for all.

“There’s a lot of emotional baggage that other people have, who are also people of color, who say, ‘Why should I care about this? Because it doesn’t matter who I vote for. It's the same thing over and over again,’” Mislan said.

“I think, unfortunately, the Obama era was one of a kind. I think that hit home for a lot of people. Yeah, we voted for a Black president, but is our situation really that much better? No. What did that do? And I think that just highlighted for a lot of people that [in] the system, it doesn’t really matter. We’re usually choosing the lesser evil and if we’re always choosing the lesser evil, why does voting matter in the first place?” Mislan said.

Despite uncertainty surrounding the vote, voters still understand that exercising this civic duty is important now more than ever.

“Being a well-rounded person in society also means you have to stay informed about the changes that may or may not affect you in the long run,” MU sophomore Amari Foster said. “Voting is so important to participate in because this is the chance to, in a way, speak out on measures that need to be strengthened or modified.”

“Regardless of who gets elected, the work doesn’t stop when we cast our vote,” MU junior Millennia Simmons said. “Especially when we talk about issues such as systematic racism and oppression, these are issues that won’t stop if Trump gets voted out of office and they can’t be fixed in a four-year time frame. We have to continue to educate ourselves individually, educate each other as a collective, and demand more from the local and federal governments that work to represent us.”

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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