Promote the Vote: The Movement
Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) students feel they have a lot to gain, and lose, in this year’s election. Whether it’s the future of voting rights, funding for public education, rights of minority students, action on climate change, and gun safety. Student voters feel the heat and are out on every campus promoting the vote and talking about the importance of having a voice in our democracy.
Tri-C’s Department of Government Relations has many resources for students to register to vote, learn how to vote, and research for whom to vote. These resources are available to all students so that they feel prepared to join the electoral struggle as fully informed voters and have a voice in the nation’s democracy.
Nache Jones, Manager of Student Engagement, believes that students should become “champions” in voting. “It’s about being responsible, advocating for yourself and your community, and making sure that we’re influencing change where it really matters,” says Jones.
Alma Rodriguez, Metro Campus Senator and Andrew Sobhy, West Campus Treasurer couldn’t agree more. As members of student government, Sobhy and Rodriguez have dedicated time to registering voters and talking to students about why it’s important to cast their ballot. “They join over 100 students, faculty, and staff in the effort to promote the vote across the college,” according to Katie Montgomery, Director of Government Relations.
Rodriguez only recently became educated on the idea of voting, she says. “I grew up in a lower-income Hispanic community and never felt like our voices as a community were heard. I’ve come to the realization that voting really does change everything and I’ve seen that change for the better.”
“Who has the power?” Sobhy asks rhetorically. “It’s the people. It’s the people’s voice that matters.”
A thoughtful young leader, committed to research and understanding the role of government in society, Sobhy explains that “elections have consequences for the youth of America. The decisions they make in government are going to impact the future of our college, especially because it’s a public college.”
Indeed, Ohio’s constitution places the responsibility for funding public education on the state. But since 2017, public education costs have risen, and state aid has not followed suit. Cuyahoga County College and other local schools have turned to tax levies in the hopes that local taxpayers will agree to stopgap those funds. It has worked so far. “Tri-C students have the lowest tuition in Ohio because the voters in Cuyahoga County have voted yes on our levy,” says Montgomery. “We try to earn that vote every day.“
One common obstacle to voting is “not understanding what candidates really stand for,” according to Jones. This November, the differences in the candidates’ positions on public education are stark. Some support freezing or lowering funding of public education and others support increasing funding, making community college tuition-free, and canceling student debt.
“I would hope that students would think about what’s going to benefit them in the long run and for generations to come,” says Jones. “What would make education more accessible and affordable for more people? How can we make going to college something that’s more appealing to students? How can we make college something people feel they can invest in and not feel like they have to spend the rest of their lives paying for?”
Rodriguez, a political science student who has eyes set on law school, considers the amount of student debt facing university graduates “ridiculous” and feels frustrated by recent developments in Ohio’s education system. “The State Board of Education’s focus is completely in the wrong area. There are children attending schools who don’t have the basic necessities. Instead of trying to push away their identities, the education system should be creating a safe space for all of us to learn.”
Rodriguez is referring to a newly proposed resolution by Board Member Brendan Shea, District 5, which would require public schools to out LGBTQ+ minors to their parents, ban transgender students from participating in sports or using facilities that align with their gender identity, and provide financial protection if districts ignore Title IX legal protections of transgender students.
“When kids go to school, that is their safe space and that benefits the school, too,” argues Rodriguez. “It increases higher grades, better motivation, and a stronger school community. Tri-C students need to know that this election is going to affect the LGBTQ community. I know so many people my age who have gone through that trauma of never being good enough and never being what their parents want them to be and never being able to express themselves fully. It’s not fair. Times have changed, and laws need to change, too. Our leaders like to tell young adults that we are the future. How are we going to be the future if they are limiting our ability to express ourselves?”
Sobhy also expressed a sense of responsibility for other students in his decision to participate in the election, particularly mentioning international students who are not eligible to vote. “You’re also representing them because they don’t have a voice. It’s important that we have high numbers and people who care.”
Both Sobhy and Rodriguez are concerned about voting rights in general and the fairness of our democracy.
“People in power are impacting your power to vote now. They’re gerrymandering the lines and it’s definitely getting worse,” says Sobhy. “This is a consequence of people not voting. Somebody’s going to get into office who shouldn’t be there and we’re not going to have a democracy anymore.”
Sobhy wants more discussions on campus about these issues. “People don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to lose friends and family. They fear demonization because of their views. But we need to be talking about what’s on the ballot and what it means. Don’t be silent. Silence has its own message. It says, ‘Let people do what they do.”
Rodriguez agrees. “Personally, I grew up around older people who never wanted to talk about the uncomfortable. But if we continue that cycle, then we will continue the cycle of things not being done correctly, and justice not being served. I hope people will not feel obligated to know everything. People always need to remember to leave room for not knowing and wanting to know. Don’t feel discouraged by that. Elections are an opportunity to see what you stand for, what your purpose is, and what you bring to the table. Taking that time to reflect on voting helps you reflect on who you are as a person.”
Tri-C Government Relations has tons of resources for student voters. The Voting Experience YouTube series, created by the 2022 Democracy Fellows in collaboration with students from the Center for Creative Arts, is now live on the Tri-C YouTube channel. Students can also check out the comprehensive Tri-C Votes website as well as the voter information cards prominently displayed on every campus. If you’d like to help promote the vote, the Fellows are asking you to participate in the Dance Challenge to the new voter anthem “Rock the Polls,” by Cory Bapes, who is a gospel artist and rapper from Cleveland.
Promoting the vote “can be as simple as asking someone ‘How do you feel right now about this country? How do you feel the election will affect you?” reassures Rodriguez. “I’d rather students ask than shy away from it. In general, I would like to see more students helping with get-out-the-vote.”