Vote and stay woke: How students can stay politically active

Illustration by Aleah Green

Activism and political change has been on the rise all summer. Movements like Black Lives Matter and the upcoming presidential election have been a spark that has lit younger generations on fire, and many believe that fire must keep being fed. 

According to The Washington Post, activism can suffer when the movement begins to fizzle out, so everyone needs to take responsibility and stay as aware as they possibly can. That way, a student’s political flame is not doused by the stress of the pandemic and school. Even though a connection has been lost through online socialization due to COVID-19, there are many clubs, services and events that are welcoming students with open arms. 

NAU has many resources for students to add to their college experience, cultivate their beliefs and figure out how they really feel about growing issues. Many believe that the best way to do that is to look toward the surrounding community.

The NAU Votes Coalition is a collection of faculty and students who work to make student voter registration easy and accessible. The coalition tries to get students to be as politically active as possible by pouring effort into student voter registration and educating students with activities. For example, they are organizing an online event to familiarize students with ballots and propositions, which takes place on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. Another event is a Constitution Day panel on voter suppression from noon to 1 p.m. on Sept. 17, with activities to follow like Bill of Rights virtual bingo.

Leah Mundell is a lecturer of anthropology and the chair for the NAU Votes Coalition. Mundell described the program as a campus-wide effort to increase voter registration and engagement. 

Mundell said the coalition is working on many events and ways for students to register to vote. They have been contacting professors to arrange in-classroom presentations where students can register. The coalition is also making virtual adjustments like setting up voter registration in the NAUgo app and LOUIE. Mundell said they have already seen hundreds of registrations come through digitally and although face-to-face contact is important for some to make a connection, it is also crucial to make the voter registration process easy for students. 

Students could make a huge political impact, not just within the upcoming presidential election, Mundell said. If students register to vote in Coconino County, they can have a significant effect on state-level officials because the county is such a competitive district, she explained.

“I think that registering to vote as a student sets in place a habit of voting,” Mundell said. “I think this is an incredible right and responsibility that we have that we take for granted. Getting established as a voter sets you on that path of learning how to navigate the civic process and not being overwhelmed by it.” 

Students often say they don’t know enough to vote or don’t feel invested enough to vote, Mundell said. She explained that organizations and even religious institutions are adapting to online communication and there is no reason students should have to feel like they are taking risks to be involved.

Mundell said looking at the map of voter turnout in Flagstaff shows the precincts with the lowest number of people who participate are dominated by students, low-income households and minority neighborhoods. She said she thinks it is so important for student and underrepresented voices to be heard and NAU Votes Coalition is going to make sure no one is being left out due to a digital divide. 

Kyle Nitschke is the organizing director of the Arizona Students Association on campus and works closely with Mundell on student voter registration efforts. Nitschke said with the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of the work has been figuring out how to register voters online. He said they ran into a few problems at first, but after months of planning, they were able to implement push notifications to encourage students to register with the NAUgo app.

Nitschke also stressed the importance of registering to vote as soon as possible and the impacts it can have locally. He said Flagstaff has promising propositions on the ballot this year that could be interesting to students regarding recreational marijuana and education funds. Nitschke described Arizona as a battleground state for the presidential election and said everything someone votes on now is going to matter in November.

“Voting is just the very first step that you can take in getting involved in a larger organization and figuring out what is really going on in your country,” Nitschke said. “Voting is the first step and kind of the first line of defense or action that you can take to make change.”

Voting is a leap in the right direction and politically educating oneself is the necessary stride toward political competence, Nitschke explained. Even while socially isolating, most of NAU’s clubs and services are operating online.

Nitschke said that no matter what, there are ways to get involved or start something. He explained that organizations like the NAU Young Democrats and the American Student Association have been around for decades and are valuable student-led programs.

“I know it’s been really tough for our clubs to do recruitment this semester,” Nitschke said. “So, please go check them out on True Blue Connects. You can find something that you’re interested in. There’s a club for you here on campus and there are people organizing events around things that you are interested in.”

There are a variety of clubs students can join to stay in the loop. Clubs like the Civic Engagement Club, NAU College Republicans, the Black Student Union and the Associated Students for Intersectional Feminism are all options for students to get involved.

A notable example of how students can both stay informed and dive into a specific interest is with the Green Jacks collective.  

Junior Justin Coakley is a member of the NAU Green Jacks. Coakley described the club as a group of environmentally conscious students who get together and brainstorm ideas on how to make the campus a better and more sustainable place for NAU students.

Coakley said the club tries to change some policies at NAU and show individuals how they can make a difference on the environment themselves by not using single-use plastics, eating less meat and walking instead of driving. 

Students can still participate in clubs like Green Jacks and practice being environmentally conscious, even through the pandemic. Coakley said people obviously cannot stop using hand sanitizer and soap, but there is no reason not to buy eco-friendly soap. The Green Jacks promote such ideas throughout campus and students just need to share a love of the environment in order to feel included. 

“There is a more left-lean in the club, and even though we aren’t officially bipartisan, I would encourage conservatives, liberals, pretty much anybody to join,” Coakley said. “We’re welcoming of all people as long as you want to help out the environment.”

Although they may not be apparently obvious at first, there are a lot of efforts in place to make sure students can still join communities where they fit in and have their voices heard over the blaring siren of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This semester may bring challenges but students can still join clubs, go to events and even go the extra mile to sign up to be paid poll workers for the upcoming election. Students can find resources to help at True Blue Connects and attend events hosted by the NAU Votes Coalition.