Voting is a privilege, so treat it like one
Although it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the Republican debates going on right now and a sketch from Saturday Night Live, the debates serve as a reminder of what’s coming in the next year. With the 2012 election season rapidly approaching, students should be registering to vote, bulking up their repertoire of political knowledge and looking for a candidate with whom they can identify.
With the onset of the extensive media coverage of the upcoming election and the Republican debates, Portland State students should remember that voting is a privilege—and not one common to everybody.
A stark reminder of this fact can come through any medium. On Oct. 20, Ali Samadi Ahadi’s documentary The Green Wave was screened at the Portland Art Museum as part of PSU and the Northwest Film Center’s New Directions in Human Rights symposium.
The film gives a detailed look into the 2009 Iranian presidential election. It describes the initial hope felt by the Iranian people as they cast their votes for presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, followed by the despair as the election results were rigged and the “ultra-conservative populist” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected instead.
Ahadi’s film uses footage of the Where Is My Vote? protests that followed Ahmadinejad’s election and focuses on how the people who participated in the protests were treated. In the months that followed the election results, those opposed to Ahmadinejad’s regime gathered in peaceful protest only to be beaten, arrested, detained and, in some cases, killed by the Iranian militia.
Since the United Nations drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, both the U.N. and many other countries throughout the world have acknowledged the basic human rights laid down in the document as law.
Article 19 states that everyone “has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
While these ways of thinking are generally respected throughout the United States and other developed countries, the citizens of Iran aren’t so lucky. Any form of mass media is highly censored, and journalists are arrested or killed if they write anything in opposition to governmental rule.
In the aftermath of Iran’s 2009 elections, all student-run newspapers on university campuses were banned, and all foreign journalists were asked to leave the country in order to make it easier for the Iranian militia to control the masses and the media. Throughout the country, various university campuses were invaded by the Iranian militia; riots ensued and many students were beaten and/or killed.
While Iran still claims to host “free” elections, the power of the voter has been stripped away and replaced with rigged elections and dire consequences for those opposed to the ruling president.
Although the 2008 U.S. presidential election had one of the highest voter turnouts in recent years, the total was only 61.7 percent of those eligible to vote. What citizens of the U.S. need to realize is that our country does offer “free” elections and voting is a privilege and a basic right that citizens of other countries aren’t lucky enough to have.
Rather than being apathetic about important historic and social events like presidential elections, young people, particularly college students, should be taking the current debates to heart. With just one short year until the next round of elections, students need to be more conscious of the rights they’re lucky enough to have.
PSU does an excellent job in making its campus as aware of human rights as possible. Various departments are constantly hosting events that focus specifically on human rights and human rights violations going on all over the world. Various courses in social justice, global politics and understanding diversity are available on campus. Courses like these are beneficial to PSU students in that they help cultivate a deeper understanding of the serious violations in human rights going on all over the world. These courses also provide a reference for how they compare to the privileges citizens of the U.S. have.
Basically, get on board. Go out, learn about your politicians (even if it’s Newt Gingrich, heaven forbid) and vote. Voting is an important part of American culture, and for some strange reason, people would rather be ignorant than involved in electing the leader of the country.
If you’re thinking about not being involved in the coming election, go to a screening of a movie like The Green Wave and see what voting in other parts of the world is like.