NDVotes ‘16 kickoff and Mayor Pete encourage civic engagement
Catherine Owers | Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Is civic engagement more American than apple pie? NDVotes ’16, which is focused on promoting participation in the 2016 elections, didn’t make students choose at its inaugural event, where both voter registration forms and slices of apple pie were up for grabs.
Task force co-chairs Roge Karma and Sarah Tomas Morgan, both sophomores, said the event on Tuesday afternoon in Geddes Coffee House, featuring a speech by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was focused on promoting three tiers of student engagement. (Editor’s note: Roge Karma is a viewpoint columnist for The Observer.)
“Students can register to vote or for absentee ballots, they can learn how to get involved with political clubs and organizations on campus, and with Mayor Pete’s talk, they can learn how to get involved in local elections and campaigns,” Karma said.
Karma said the task force wanted to streamline the voter registration process for students to promote participation in the upcoming elections.
“All they have to do is fill it out and give it to us, and we make sure that it gets into the right hands so that they get their absentee ballot on time,” he said.
At the event, Buttigieg spoke briefly on the importance of young voter participation.
“Most important social change and political change actually starts with young people,” he said. “That’s true of some of the best changes that have happened in modern times, with the civil rights movement and the end of apartheid in South Africa.”
Buttigieg said he believes there is a crisis of engagement in the political process of the country, as many voters are disillusioned by the role of money in politics or do not find candidates who are speaking on relevant matters, but students can have a significant impact on politics.
“All of you are qualified by virtue of what you’re doing with your lives right now. A student who is spending all of their time and attention, has a full-time job that consists of learning everything you can about yourself and the world around you,” he said. “There will not be another time in your life where you will be this immersed in moral inquiry about the way things ought to be and the way you ought to live your life. Who better to call on the conscience and the intellect of everybody else in your community or your country about what the right things to do are?”
Students should become more active in their home communities, as well as the South Bend community, Buttigieg said.
“The next time you hear ‘Why don’t they?’ make it into ‘Why don’t I? Why don’t we? Why don’t you?’ and see whether the conversation becomes different,” he said. “This is a place where talent can meet purpose, and I hope you choose a public purpose to apply your talents to.”
The NDVotes ’16 task force is comprised of representatives from clubs and organizations across campus, Karma said, including BridgeND, College Democrats, College Republicans, the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy and GreeND.
“It’s all these clubs, student government, coming together electing basically ambassadors to this NDVotes task force,” he said. “It’s not like a club acting in its own interests — it’s all these different groups who all have the common goal of voter registration, civic engagement, in mind, coming together to work for what we think is the greater good.”
Tomas Morgan said the task force has a variety of events planned for the rest of the semester, including a talk on virtuous discourse, a panel discussion exploring election demographics and a panel of student leaders discussing a contemporary issue.
“These are all sort of getting into the election season. We wanted to talk about preliminary things,” she said. “As the election evolves, the candidates drop out or [join the race], we’ll evolve with it.”
“We’re trying to engage on a lot of different levels,” Karma said. “Based on that, we’ll be able to gauge for next semester where we want to be, which of these events turned out the best. It’s not like an experiment, but it’s trying as many different things as we can and seeing what the results are.”
Karma said the task force is partnering with both the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy and the Center for Social Concerns (CSC).
“It kind of creates this hybridization of the Catholic responsibility to be civically engaged and the secular responsibility to be engaged in your country,” he said.
The combination of a foundation in Catholic social teaching and willingness to learn and engage with issues distinguishes Notre Dame students, Karma said.
“One of the coolest things about Notre Dame is that people aren’t afraid to have those discussions about issues,” he said. “I noticed that even when I went back to my dorm during the GOP debate, everyone across majors were interested in it.”
Tomas Morgan said the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has influenced the University’s culture of civic engagement.
“We think with the CSC and the Rooney Center for American Democracy, these are the parts of campus we want to draw from,” Tomas Morgan said. “I think voting really is, as the Catholic bishops say, in this founding document, a moral obligation. And it’s something you shape your conscience for. And that’s something the CSC has always helped students to do.”