Students Have Right to Vote in Oberlin Elections

“Think One Person Can Change The World? So Do We.” This is one of the most successful promotional campaigns Oberlin College has ever run, because the desire to bring about positive change by engaging with the world around us resonates so strongly in our campus community. Students at Oberlin today are part of a proud history of civic engagement. Campus issues, local community issues — not to mention regional, national, and global issues — are among the ways that Oberlin students have made and continue to make a difference. Exercising your right — and I would say responsibility — to vote this coming Tuesday, Nov. 7, is one of the most direct ways students can enact positive change. For those of you who are registered to vote in Ohio, your participation could have a critical impact on whether the College and the city become a more sustainable, resilient, and socially just community.

Many students ask themselves, “Should I vote in local elections?” You need to answer this question for yourself, but I would like to offer some reasons why you should and provide a few suggestions regarding individuals and ballot initiatives that are worthy of the support of progressives.

Why should you vote? Since Oberlin College and the City of Oberlin were collectively founded in 1833, students have been engaged and vital members of the community. Throughout our history, Oberlin students have worked and volunteered in the area and have collaborated on progressive politics locally, regionally, and nationally. Students have worked with non-student members of this community to take local action and provided national leadership as abolitionists, suffragists, and environmental activists.

More recently, students, faculty, staff, and townspeople have collaborated closely to address how a city and college in the Rust Belt might collaborate to build a vibrant, resilient economy that alleviates poverty and inequity, promotes sustainable agriculture and local business, and ultimately weans itself off fossil fuels. The candidates and issues on the ballot this Tuesday present citizens — including Oberlin students — with important choices that will help answer this question.

Some students feel that because they are transitory residents, they should not vote. But your four-year term at Oberlin is twice as long as the term of Oberlin city councilors. Many students engage deeply in and contribute very meaningfully to this community; you have a right to engage in decision-making. Some argue that since students often don’t pay taxes and because Oberlin College does not pay property taxes on campus, students do not have a right to vote on issues related to the economy. But Oberlin students are in fact a vital component of the local economy. The dollars you spend downtown — and I hope you are spending downtown — provide critical jobs that support the city. Oberlin College itself is the largest employer in this city. Your tuition helps pay for all of our salaries, including mine; even if you don’t have a local job, you are indirectly supporting property taxes and income taxes that support city government.

While there are a number of fine candidates running for City Council — you can vote for up to seven — I urge those of you who support progressive politics to consider voting for four candidates who have demonstrated commitment to a positive agenda: Heather Adelman, Bryan Burgess, Sharon Pearson, and Linda Slocum. Collectively, these individuals have been tireless advocates for issues that include local economic development, celebrating diversity, LGBTQ and immigrant rights, green energy, bicycle-and-pedestrian-friendly streets, and local food initiatives. They support the kind of town-college collaborations that have always provided Oberlin with outsized leadership that ripples outwards to affect the larger world.

In addition to the City Council election, there are a number of ballot issues that are important to strengthening this community. In particular, I urge you to vote “YES” on Issue 16 and “NO” on Issue 17. These initiatives will move this community toward investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy and toward meeting the shared College and city goals of achieving carbon neutrality. I also encourage “YES” on Issue 2, which is designed to keep drug prices affordable — backers include the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland and Cleveland chapter of the NAACP; the “NO” campaign is largely funded by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association.

Some students are particularly hesitant to vote on school initiatives because you are unlikely to have children in the school. But particularly for the many College students who have demonstrated commitment to our public schools by tutoring or otherwise volunteering, consider voting “YES” for the levy renewals on ballot initiatives 40 and 41; these provide necessary continued funding for our schools.

It is quite appropriate for college students to abstain from voting on issues on which they do not feel informed or feel that they have no stake. However, I would suggest that students who are registered to vote in Ohio have a responsibility and a right to exercise their franchise on the issues that affect both them and the life of the community in which they are currently living and studying.