Jayme Montgomery wasn't messing around. As state director of the Wisconsin League of Young Voters, she asked a small gathering of Mount Mary College students at a voter registration forum to cast ballots on the issues most important to them.
The choices were health and reproductive issues for women, jobs and the economy, voter rights and immigration reform.
In order to vote, students had to show ID.
When two students couldn't vote because they hadn't brought ID, she approached each and asked, "How did that make you feel?"
It was an object lesson in exclusion.
"I bring up the voter ID because I think it provides a concrete way that the vote is suppressed," she said.
Jobs and the economy won.
"Politics is about choices, getting choices and decisions made," she said. "You either decide, or it will be decided for you."
Montgomery was one of three guest speakers at the small forum at the college Monday designed to motivate students to register to vote. Organized by senior Jessica Cox, the forum was inspirational and practical, in that a table in the hall was staffed and ready to take voter registration. Cox, a Caroline Scholar at the school, pledged to spend 300 hours in community service work this school year, said after the forum that eight people had registered, and that in her larger outreach at the school as volunteer coordinator for the Campus Election Engagement Project, 28 had registered.
Hearing the message
Jessica Benson, another senior Caroline Scholar, said the Nov. 6 presidential election would be the first time she voted. She wasn't old enough in 2008, and had never voted in a local election.
Why start now?
"The more I learn about the groups that don't vote, it makes me want to have my voice be heard, because, like they were talking about, a lot of young people don't vote, and I am young; a lot of minorities don't vote, and I'm a minority; and a lot of women don't vote, and I'm a woman," she said.
Olivia Ellis, also a senior, said she voted in the 2008 presidential election. She hasn't always been politically active, but watching a debate between Barack Obama and John McCain before the last election, she felt McCain wasn't answering the questions posed to him and called everybody his "friend."
"I started doing a little bit more research," and she felt Obama was the candidate for her.
Basma Wadeea, an international student from Iraq and another Caroline Scholar, spoke to the forum attendees.
"I'm pretty much here today supporting this event and this project because of the bitter experience of voting in an election back in the Middle East in a so-called democracy back there," she said. "I do have a deep desire to vote here, and to be part of this election, and to have an opinion; however, I can't, I can't vote, I don't have a right for that because I'm not (a citizen). But, I'm asking you, that's my job, I think this is my position here, I'm asking you to vote and let your votes be heard all over the world, not only here in the United States."
LuAnn Bird of the League of Women Voters told her story of political engagement, which began when her husband, who was injured in a construction accident and had to use a wheelchair, couldn't get into school buildings in Oshkosh.
"That was my issue," she said.
She ran and was elected to the School Board, and pushed for and succeeded in making every school handicapped-accessible.
"Create the kind of change you think we need to make society better," she said.
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