Rock the Vote shakes campus
Janice Flynn | Wednesday, September 22, 2004
In January 2004, a small group of politically-minded students gathered at the Center for Social Concerns, struggling to come up with a way to achieve their common goal of increasing political alertness at Notre Dame during the election year. Seven months later, the campus-wide Rock the Vote campaign has not only provided campus with political discussions and voter-registration tables, but has also garnered national – including MTV – recognition.From the students’ founding goal of promoting a more politically aware climate came two specific objectives. “It goes beyond just registering people,” junior Michelle McCarthy said. “It’s also about educating them about the issues so that they’re not just going to the polls on Election Day and checking off a box.”The founding members of the Rock the Vote effort, a CSC-sponsored organization, all come from political minds. The steering committee includes officers from the College Republicans and College Democrats, self-professed moderates and students from many different majors. Seeing such political interest diffused across campus sparked the proposal for a single campaign, said junior Pete Quaranto, student coordinator of the Rock the Vote campaign.”These [political] dialogues were going on in other circles,” said Quaranto. “What originally was our vision was to give a home to that, to give that some focus.”This summer, the mission and scope of ND Rock the Vote attracted high-profile eyes, winning won one of 20 grants issued by MTV’s “20 Million Loud” contest. The contest supports exceptional youth-led endeavors that mobilize people from ages 18 to 30 to vote in the 2004 election, with winners receiving start-up grants of $500-$1000.Furthermore, Responsible Citizenship, a national Catholic campaign for civic dialogue, contacted group leaders over the summer and has suggested that other Catholic universities look to Notre Dame as a model for direction in their voter-participation efforts. Rock the Vote has a core steering group of 10 to 15 students, but the organization boasts over 200 students in total.”This is a pretty impressive group of student leaders,” said Rachel Tomas Moran, who serves as the CSC advisor to Rock the Vote. “I’m highly impressed with their ideas, their initiatives, their organization and just their ability to be able to come up with ideas and turn them into concrete events.”Rock the Vote leaders admit that with such diverging political opinions, it has sometimes been difficult to come to a consensus on events. But all members of the steering committee – College Democrats and Republicans alike – agree that aside from minor controversies, Rock the Vote has stayed remarkably true to its non-partisan mission.”I think the key distinction… is that we’re non-partisan, we’re not bi-partisan,” Quaranto said. “There’s that tension where we’ve had to grapple with how to stay focused on our mission while at the same time trying to include all the people from different organizations on campus that should be a part of that.””Our mission at the beginning was to get people to enter the marketplace of ideas… to be involved no matter what their affiliation,” said Colin Taylor, co-president of the College Democrats. “Obviously I have partisan interests and other people have different interests, but [Quaranto] has taken great pains to nonpartisan, even though he himself has interests.”Tom Rippinger, co-president of the College Republicans, said that thus far, Rock the Vote’s nonpartisanship efforts have been worth the strain.”We’ve genuinely tried to be non-partisan, he said. “We’ve been pretty happy. Partisanship has mostly not been a factor.”Rock the Vote events are in full swing during these next two weeks. The campaign has planned election-related events that run the gamut from faculty panels and high-profile speakers to theology-on-tap discussions and a presidential debate watch. The organization leaders have been pleased with student attendance at their events. To date, ND Rock the Vote has registered nearly 1,000 voters. Dave Baron, student government liaison to the steering committee, has noticed a difference in student interest in government on all levels, which he attributes in part to the increased political discussion Rock the Vote promotes.”From a student government standpoint, during activities night we had over 200 people to sign up to get information, and over 100 people at our first meeting,” said Baron. “That’s far more that I’ve ever seen.”Leaders of the campaign hope to continue providing political discussion after the election, though with less regularity. Encouraged by the financial and verbal support of the CSC, faculty and various departments and groups around campus, Rock the Vote leaders hope that both formal and casual dialogue will continue.”In sort of an idealistic way … we’re kind of shaping the culture here so that political discussions happening at the dining hall or in LaFortune are not unusual things but they’re very common things,” Quaranto said.