You Say You Want a Revolution? -- Taking Over the World, One City at a Time
Joel M. Rosenberg
This past year has been a political nightmare for MIT. In a vicious cycle, the press came down hard on us, which caused the politicians to speak out against us, which caused the administration to make decisions to appease the press and politicians. Lost was the voice of the students, who have the biggest stake in all of this.
I am convinced that the only way to stop this slippery slope is for MIT students to take a stand by registering and voting here in Boston and Cambridge. A new voting bloc of potentially thousands will spring up, something neither the press nor the politicians will be able to ignore. And if Harvard University, Boston University, and other area colleges follow our lead, over the next few years we might be able to change the face of this town. As Gary Wolf writes in September's Wired, "Revolutionary excitement is always sparked when powerful information is suddenly shared." Well, here's the information.
You should register to vote in the place you consider to be your "home,"defined in the Massachusetts Election Resource Handbook as "the center of a person's domestic, social and civil life." If Massachusetts fits this description, you can register to vote immediately if you're 18, a U.S.citizen, and have a Massachusetts address. Contrary to popular belief, registering here doesn't require you to file taxes here or to change your drivers license or vehicle registration.
Registration is easy thanks to the web. Until September 15, if you fill out the online form at www.netvote98.mci.com, they'll mail you a completed registration application which all you have to do is sign and drop back in the mail - it's already addressed and postage paid. There will also be a registration drive on campus on September 17.
The polls are easily within walking distance - most Boston residents will vote at the Boston Public Library, and most Cambridge residents will vote on campus, in Johnson Athletic Center or at the SalvationArmy on Massachusetts Avenue.
If you'd like to vote here but are worried about giving up residency where your parents live, I urge you to call your state elections division to have your concerns addressed - often they are unfounded. People receiving financial aid from their home state should definitely check on the implications of changing residency. The numbers on this page are starting points. Don't be discouraged if you're sent on a small goose chase - much of the government is a bureaucratic mess.
If you'd rather vote back in your "home" state, call your elections division to find out how to obtain an absentee ballot. You still have to register, though, which you can do at netvote98.
"I've learned just how much, as a politician, you need to pay attention to the people who vote. And if people don't vote, then the reality is that politicians don't pay attention to them." The quote is from City Councilor Tom Keane, who represents more than 800 MIT students living in Boston, and who is currently running for Congress, where he would represent all MIT students in both Boston and Cambridge. Keane won his last election by a mere 27 votes, while most of his student constituents have probably never heard of Keane.
Even worse, Boston Mayor Tom Menino was elected in 1993 with 74,448 votes, about 16 percent of the city's voting age population. Boston's 84,831 students (and who-knows-how-many twenty-somethings sympathetic to students) could have been kingmakers if they had been organized. That's even more interesting when you consider a candidate only has to be 18 to run for mayor, and that last year, Menino ran unopposed for re-election, a first in Boston politics.
Additionally, Massachusetts encourages citizen participation. It only takes 200 signatures to get a non-binding question of public policy on the ballot in a state representative district, and 1,200 in a state senate district. Ballot questions to repeal a law require around 33,000 signatures, to amend the Massachusetts constitution around 65,000 signatures, and to actually propose a law to the voters for approval or rejection around 65,000 signatures - these numbers change based on number of votes last cast for governor. With some organization, students can take the government into their own hands.
In Massachusetts, the primaries are really the important elections, and unfortunately, the registration deadline has already passed. While we'll have an influence on the regular November election, the point this year is to boost election day turnout numbers and send a message to the politicians that we will no longer be ignored. This is a year to set an example for other schools to follow, and to start a tradition of student political participation so that next time we will be registered for the primaries.
Registrants shouldn't worry about not having enough information to vote this fall - I'll make sure that there will be information provided specifically for students to use when deciding for whom to vote. If you're interested in helping, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My hope is to organize a perpetual association of Boston and Cambridge students to act as a student lobby and report to students on local government. From there we can look into issues like keeping the MBTA open later (which hasn't been studied since 1960), getting rid of the blue laws, and changing the resident parking requirements. While individuals change from year to year, students remain a constant portion of the population, and should have a voice to match.
This is the perfect opportunity for MIT to once again assert its technological prowess by being the first school to register en masse online. At last week's symposium on science in the next century, physicist Michio Kaku stated his belief that the future of democracy, and thus the world, will rely on the web. "That's what I think the web is all about,"he stated. I agree, and am confident that while politics isn't our specialty, it's possible for us to, as always, learn quickly, reengineer the system, and dominate it.
Keane said, "It's certainly tragic in the sense that students are living here, there are decisions being made that affect their basic quality of life, and they're not involved." The time has come to get involved. City Hall isn't meant to be fought - it's meant to execute the will of the electorate. Now, all we have to do is become the electorate.