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Post-Election Analysis Students Who Didn’t Vote Deserve Whatever They Get

Eric J. Plosky

Well, Election Day has come and gone. And by the best available estimates, only a few hundred students voted in Cambridge and Boston.

To them: You should be proud. You exercised your constitutional rights; you made your own personal statement. Your influence on community affairs and local politics, if not outright apparent, is at least present to some extent, and you have identified yourself as an active constituent to those who control legislation and policy.

To those who voted in other elections via absentee ballot: You, too, have your civic dignity intact. Although by voting elsewhere you subordinated your involvement in and around Boston and Cambridge, deciding where to participate is a personal matter. As long as you vote somewhere, you should still be respected as a citizen.

However, those of you who did not vote anywhere are worthy only of the severest vilification.

Obviously, I am not referring to those too young to register to vote, or to those, perhaps non-citizens, who are ineligible.

I mean you who were too lazy, too oblivious, or too ignorant to register to vote. You who didn’t care enough to spend two minutes casting a ballot. You who actively “didn’t care,” who deliberately withheld your vote in seeming protest.

You deserve whatever you get.

There is no defense for not voting. “But I’m not interested in Boston or Cambridge politics,” you might claim. Fine; vote as an absentee in your hometown election. “But I’m not interested in my hometown election.” Fine; you’re a non-citizen. Those of us who are interested will forever ignore you.

We’ll ignore you because we can, because the pleading of non-constituents, when such people have occasion to complain, is meaningless to leaders, who listen, rightly, only to voters. Don’t look for Boston or Cambridge to be responsive to students when students register merely as inert (if sometimes noisy) matter on politicians’ radar screens.

Last week’s fraternity troubles were caused largely by the Boston Licensing Board, a city government agency. Many more students were ready to whine about the board’s actions against PKS and SAE than were prepared to go to the polls to make city officials sit up and take notice of student concerns. Those who complained without casting ballots, those with lots of bark but no bite whatsoever, should be condemned.

Certainly, voting isn’t the only way to make a difference. The organizers of Saturday’s rally, for instance, deserve accolades for somehow pulling off that impressive event. Even the local media paused in their MIT-directed vitriol to recognize the spectacle.

But the pause was only temporary, because the hundreds of ralliers on Saturday failed to show up at the polls on Tuesday. When students fail to exercise their political power, when apathy rules in place of what could be unbelievable voting strength, even newsworthy student protests aren’t enough to dissuade the Globe from calling for the indiscriminate decertification of all MIT fraternities.

The media would certainly change its tune if students banded together as a voting bloc and took control of city council and mayoral elections.

As it is, there is no voice in local government representing student interests, no one to angrily refute the outrageous claims made by the Globe, among others, that students are rambunctious, out-of-control louts.

Sure, students argue. But why should anyone pay any attention? Students, by and large, aren’t respectable adult citizens, members of the community -- they don’t vote.

Granted, many MIT students give back to the local community through a variety of considerable public-service tasks. In Cambridge and Boston, students volunteer to teach, to tutor, to fund-raise for charity, to serve in clinics, shelters and hospitals.

It is confusing that such dedicated people are for the most part unwilling to contribute to the political dialogue. Are students averse to a Globe headline that reads “MIT Students Mobilize; Elect Boston, Cambridge City Councilors”?

I have written in the past that local government is important -- more so, in fact, than whatever goes on in Washington. But most students apparently disagree.

You have the right to disagree. But if you didn’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain when something irks you. You don’t have the right to challenge political leaders when they walk all over you. If you’re silent at the polls, silent will you ever be.

If ours is to be a generation of non-voters, we had better get ready to submit to the whims of the vocal, the peccadilloes of those who are clever enough to court the active vote. More to the point, those among us who can’t bring themselves to demand a seat at the political table will quickly find themselves reduced to dealing with whatever scraps those in control deign to throw.