San Francisco McCarthy Fellow, Maya Lawton (’21), reflects in this week’s blog on the importance of casting your vote. Through her work as a Fellow and as a part of USFVotes, Lawton acknowledges the necessary engagement, responsibility, and community building that comes with political activism. Read more for her take on the empowerment voting entails.
It seems that everywhere you look now the word ‘vote’ appears. In a social media post, an advertisement in the mail, a brief conversation with a friend, the awareness garnered towards this upcoming election is palpable and for good measure too. Regardless of how the concept of voting presents itself these days, the fact that it is being discussed openly and encouraged on multiple platforms is a mark of political awareness and social development. It is a result of empowerment in which individuals are realizing how to harness their capability of influencing the decisions made by federal and local government institutions. With that being said, access to voting information and voting itself is not the same experience across all of America. Distributional inequities, public censorship, and state-based political agendas are but just a few of the ways in which one’s access to voting differs from that of another. I recognize that my knowledge of voting and the resources I have access to are not symbolic of all voter’s experiences.
During my time at USF I have been exposed to multiple opportunities to engage in my classroom, community, and virtual sphere around issues of social justice and inequality. As a student it can be difficult to choose a cause to affiliate yourself with or locate a source of agency when you are presented with a diversity of social, political, and cultural information from all of your courses in a short duration of time. While the intention in academia, of course, is to educate and equip students with the necessary skills to contribute in society, such an influx of knowledge can feel overwhelming. It can both inspire you to cultivate a passionate interest, but also leave you with the question “Where do I start?”. This question of where do I even begin to orient myself in a society that seems to require reformative changes in multiple directions at once motivated me to enter the McCarthy Fellows in SF program and make a commitment to voter engagement. My involvement in this program has brought to me a sense of community and political activism. In addition, it has provided a stepping stone for which I have been able to pursue other opportunities for social justice engagement supported by the McCarthy Center, such as USFVotes. As a CESF Youth Voice Youth Vote Fellow and a USFVotes leader I have prioritized ensuring that students at USF, as well as those in our greater community, are registered to vote and educated about the issues and candidates in this upcoming election. By attending club events, spreading awareness through social media, and assembling educational sources pertinent to the election on our Linktree, I hope to generate a positive space where students can have an open and honest dialogue around their political beliefs and values.
According to Amartya Sen, an Indian economist, philosopher, scholar, and Nobel Prize recipient, democracy is valuable based on a plurality of virtues: “the intrinsic importance of political participation and freedom in human life; second, the instrumental importance of political incentives in keeping governments responsible and accountable; and third, the constructive role of democracy in the formation of values and in the understanding of needs, rights, and duties.” In my mission to educate others on the importance of voting in this upcoming election I have found it critical to draw upon my own reasoning for exercising my right to vote. My sense of identity as a Latina woman and knowledge of U.S. history has made me keenly aware of how my right to vote has been a product of mass political organizing, solidarity, and determination. My interest in political philosophy has equipped me with knowledge of the value of democratic procedures, of which public debate and voting becomes all the more urgent. Lastly, my positive relationships with my family, friends, and community have modeled a type of compassion that I hope to reciprocate by voting on decisions that will affect the lives of those around me. By voting, I am fulfilling my human obligation to care about the situation of my fellow peers, my civic responsibility to promote a world of inclusion and fairness, and my academic role as a student and leader at USF.
Sen, Amartya Kumar. “Democracy as a Universal Value.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 10 no. 3, 1999, p. 3-17. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jod.1999.0055.