2016 Could Actually Matter (If We Make It)
If you have been paying any attention to the run-up to the 2016 election, you may be most shocked by the rhetoric or the media's coverage, but neither of these phenomena disgusts me the most. With the election still nine months away, the top six candidates have raised a total of over $217 million for their campaigns. To put that number in perspective, that amount is high enough to pay for the Skidmore tuition of more than 4,000 students in any given year—and that is just the tip of the iceberg. So far, an additional $187 million has been raised by Super PACs and “outside” organizations to spend on behalf of presidential candidates.
It is impossible for anyone who is not extremely wealthy to have a chance in today's election system. Ninety-nine percent of Americans could not raise that kind of money to run for office, and this is a big reason why so many people are disgusted with politics and feel that their voices do not count.
But things do not have to stay this way. This year, for the first time, every one of the presidential candidates has been talking about the problem of big money in our political system, and most have said that something must be done. They know that the American people are demanding change.
Of course, some candidates suggest very little change, but others seem to be serious about overhauling the way we fund campaigns in order to curb the overwhelming power of rich donors. That would give ordinary Americans more of a say in politics, and allow people without mega-bucks (or connections to others with mega-bucks) to run for office.
But there is a catch. Change will only happen if enough people, including students, actually vote—to show that they want to take big money out of politics and put the people back in.
I am asking every Skidmore student to pay attention this election season, and to vote. Take the time to figure out which candidate will have the greatest effect on changing the way candidates get elected in the United States. Visit your local Board of Elections website to register to vote in order to make your voice heard. Until we can get big money out of politics, we will never be able to make progress on so many other policies that students on this campus care about—climate change, economic inequality, the high cost of college, the out-of-control student debt, and mass incarceration, to name a few.
The stakes of the election have risen even more in recent days, since our next president could very likely be the one to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court now that Justice Scalia has passed away. A liberal majority on the Court could overturn Citizens United, while a conservative majority would ensure that the decision is upheld. In other words, the next appointed SCOTUS justice could tip the scales on the issue of campaign finance reform, and the next president will determine who that justice is.
When rich donors no longer get to overwhelmingly decide our policies and laws, we can. And then the promise of democracy in America—of a government truly of, by, and for the people—will be realized.
The student vote is significant, and can make a real difference. So join me this year: register, vote, and support candidates who will make it possible for all of us to have real influence on our political system.
James Rider is a member of Democracy Matters, a club that provides a place for students to learn more about the role of big money in politics and to take action on this issue and others. Meetings are held every Tuesday from 7-8pm in Ladd 307.
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