The campaign leading up to the 2016 election has been one of the most absurd, contentious and disheartening campaigns in generations. At times it feels like we have passed through the looking glass, and the Mad Hatter is pouring Kool-Aid while discussing physical attributes of candidates and their wives. Many people have gotten caught up in the reality-show atmosphere of the debates, town halls and social media platforms. Some fear that American civilization is on the verge of collapse.
So what can we do? What should we do? And most importantly who are “we?” Dr. Darrien Davenport, assistant dean of student affairs at York College of Pennsylvania, and I touched on this topic during a conversation in March. I had sought out Dr. Davenport after meeting him at a York College Cultural Series event – the screening of the movie “Dear White People.” He struck me as having a unique perspective on several different population groups that should be participating in this year’s election. Dr. Davenport is involved in the student’s world, the York community in which he volunteers, and the academic community.
“As far as the election, I’ve heard from many people who are either confused about what the candidates stand for or are disenchanted completely,” Dr. Davenport remarked. “I think this election provides this country and its citizens an opportunity to really take a hard look at their political structure and see what changes they want made for the betterment of the country. Isn’t that our role as citizens? When we think about it means to be a citizen, there are a lot of things that we should participate in that we don’t. If we want to have power, we could, but we don’t because we don’t get involved. In particular, consider the fact that we have less than 80 percent of the country voting in any election.”
Dr. Davenport makes a very important point here. The participation rate among eligible voters in this country is pathetic. The voter rates for non presidential years are appalling. The bump in numbers for presidential years does not translate to a more informed pool of voters. It reminds me of people who do not watch football but would not dream of missing the Super Bowl. They are watching just because that is what is socially expected. So why can’t we have expectations for a reasonably informed electorate to participate in all levels of elections? Why is the local school board any less important than the president in an individual’s life? The school board may have more actual impact on the individual through taxes and their children’s education, yet fewer voters turn out to select them.
I asked Dr. Davenport how we can create voters who are informed as opposed to those who are influenced. He said, “You see someone who may be speaking your language or really speaking to you as far as your passions and your purpose and your beliefs. Do your research so you have a full understanding of what that person stands for. Looking at the folks still in the race, see what they’ve done in the past, how they voted in the past. That’s public information. Use that information to inform yourself and make a healthy decision as opposed to just reading a stream of Facebook posts.”
Honestly, I am surprised by the gullibility of people to believe something is true simply because it is on social media. Always check your sources. If an article says a particular candidate is embezzling money from his campaign, the source of the article is very important. If it is written by a competitor in the campaign or contains no facts to back up the accusations, then the last thing you should do is report or retweet it. Treat information as potential computer viruses. Check out all sides of the story before you buy into it.
In November, the election will be held. Then we face the task of coming together. Dr. Davenport stated it clearly, “And – we have to – we have to become America. You hear this thing out there -- regardless of who says it -- about making America great again. I think what will make America great again is Americans realizing the power they have and the solidarity that they should and can show to be able to have a positive effect on making change. It doesn’t mean starting some start of civil disobedience or riot or big, but it’s coming together and saying there are things that we want to change about our society, and regardless of where we sit in an aisle, we want the people who represent us to do better and do more.”
I encourage individuals 18 years or older to register to vote now. If you missed your state’s primary or cut-off for the Pennsylvania primary, still register. Vote in the general election. And continue to vote in every election, primary and general, presidential or local, from this point on.
“If you want to change things, if you want to see the laws created and have the rights and all these different things, you have to stand up and be present,” Dr. Davenport explained. “It’s the business of the people. I think when it comes to, ‘We the people . . . ‘ some people forget the ‘we’. There’s power in collaborative efforts to come together and say, ‘We don’t like this. We don’t like what’s going on.’
“I think that more of our ‘we’ have to come together and say, ‘Listen, if you want a better economy or you want better minimum wage or you want something else, let’s come together and push for that as opposed to fighting each other because we have different political colors and mascots.’ We all live in America.”
Dr. Darrien Davenport, ED.D.is the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Intercultural Student Life and Global Programming
at York College of Pennsylvania. Our conversation took place March 7, 2016.