It’s hard to get MIT students involved in politics. We’re politically aware, but not very politically active. We sit in our rooms reloading fivethirtyeight.com, and we crack political jokes when the opportunity arises, but we consider ourselves too busy to get out our phone and make calls or get in a car and canvass in New Hampshire. We’ve got problem sets, demos, papers, grants, and dissertations to worry about. To many, this election is a form of entertainment to be enjoyed at a distance.
It’s good entertainment, but now is not the year to sit back and be entertained. This is the year when young voters have already changed the course of the election. We have put an intelligent and inspiring candidate in a position to win the election, fueled by grassroots organization and a record number of small donors. Our candidate is Barack Obama.
The nation is now waiting to see whether young voters come through in the end, the way we did not in 2000 and 2004. We can show that this year is different, that the opinions of young voters matter. We have the opportunity to send our candidate to the White House with a popular mandate. Even MIT students are ready to be part of this — the combined voter drives on this campus have signed up over six hundred of you to vote this year.
There have been many eloquent endorsements of Barack Obama. You’ve probably seen a few, such as the powerful endorsement recently made by Colin Powell, so I don’t need to restate the case. I intend to explain why Obama matters specifically to you, as a student who is passionate about science, technology, engineering, and math.
Barack Obama has been the overwhelming choice of the scientific community. In September, a group of 61 Nobel Laureates endorsed Barack Obama. Every American winner of a 2008 Nobel Prize has endorsed Obama. Science Debate 2008, an initiative of many universities and other scientific organizations, asked the candidates 14 questions about science and technology, and Obama’s answers are full of hard-hitting scientific points, describing initiatives that will greatly help the stressed science funding system and the weakened position of the scientific agenda after eight years of Republican rule.
Obama plans to “increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade.” He also stresses that he wants it to become easier for young researchers to become involved and successful in science by “increasing research grants for early-career researchers.” In addition, he plans to increase the number of NSF graduate fellowships, so his victory could directly affect you. Add this to the ways that Obama’s policies would positively impact every American.
John McCain pays lip service to science, but he seems not to understand the importance and the purpose of basic science and engineering. Multiple times during the debates, he brought up the Adler Planetarium’s star projector as an example of wasteful spending, referring to it as an “overhead projector.” He mocked a research project that uses DNA to track populations of grizzly bears. How can someone with this attitude possibly reinforce our nation’s global standing in science and engineering?
Would he consider your UROP, your thesis, your ideas, your passion to be equally wasteful? John McCain doesn’t understand that research and education are not wasteful expenditures that need to be eliminated — they are part of the backbone of this country and the foundation of our success.
Echoing JFK, Barack Obama once noted, “I wouldn’t be here if, time and again, the torch had not been passed to a new generation.” This year, the torch is being passed to us. We must be ready to take it, to set the direction of this country in science and engineering, and in all the other issues that matter to us. It’s our responsibility now to get out there and talk to voters. Out there, it’s not about trends, sample sizes, and margins of error. It’s about you and the undecided voter.
When I joined this campaign 19 months ago, I didn’t know how I could make a difference, didn’t believe I could make the connection with another voter in a way that would convince them to vote for Obama. But it’s easier than you think. Just be yourself. Talk about the issues which make you passionate.
I’m a libertarian-leaning independent, and years ago I would have been thrilled to hear that John McCain was running for president. But John McCain has changed, abandoning his principles and replacing them with failing Republican policies, while the world has changed to show us that we can’t afford four more years of the same. This is the time for new politics — our kind of politics: smaller donors, community involvement, government based on science, grassroots involvement, and yes, hope.
I will be voting for Barack Obama. And despite trying to finish my dissertation, I will be traveling to New Hampshire to help get out the vote. If we’re again surprised when the results come in, I don’t want to be thinking that there could have been more that I could have done. The problem set can wait, our country can not. Join me.
Catherine Havasi ’03 is the leader of MIT for Obama.