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'A Voteless People is a Hopeless People'

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Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in hunt for young voters

By Chris Levister

Oct. 22 is the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 6 presidential election, and volunteers have been staking out tables at area college campuses with voter registration cards, greeting students with a blunt question: "Do you want to vote?"

Take Osamoje Imoohi, president of the Pi Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. He and his fraternity brothers at UC Riverside are on the hunt for young voters like first time voter Dyanna Cooper.

“A voteless people is a hopeless people,” he said citing Alpha Phi Alpha Inc.’s national voter registration slogan.

“I can’t wait to vote,” says Cooper, a senior psychology major. “It gives me chills when I think about the importance of the vote. I think about my forefathers and others who fought and died for my right as an African American woman to cast a ballot.”

Picking a leader at the ballot box can be a difficult choice says Cooper “It’s hard to sort out fact from fiction and doublespeak from sincere promises, especially with the biases in today’s media. It is extremely important that I not be distracted by the ‘noise’ and educate myself on the issues, mobilize, and get involved.”

“In 2008, it was cool to vote,” said Imoohi. “People ages (18-24) made it their business to talk about the elections all the time. But, in 2010, young voters lost interest.” He says this lost interest could be due to the fact that the presidential race is not being viewed as competitive as the race in 2008.

The turnout for registered Inland Empire voters in the California presidential primary back in June was a measly 24 percent.

According to Rock the Vote, an organization whose mission is to engage and build political power for young people in the country, African-American youth are the most politically engaged racial/ethnic minority group in the country. During the 2008 election, Rock the Vote calculated that young African-Americans are more likely to vote regularly, donate money to candidates and display a campaign button or sign. Gone is the cool factor that came with Barack Obama's "hope and change" campaign in 2008, which sent young voters to the polls in huge numbers.

Four years later, with the not-so-sexy topics of the economy and healthcare looming as key issues, political experts are predicting a significant drop in the youth vote.

But many young voters, like senior, political science major Rashad Williams see their vote as important and will take a break from studying to watch the debates between President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

Williams asks “Who would be the strongest candidate to reach the unreachable? Who will pick up those who have fallen and carry those who have been left behind?”

Imoohi says young voters need to take part in the process because it affects their future.

He says while issues such as Medicare and Social Security may not appear to hit close to home at age 18, these issues will eventually be inherited by this generation of voters.

“Why should I vote? It doesn’t matter. That’s where you’re wrong. It does matter,” said Imoohi. “You are exercising the most important right we have as a democracy. You are casting your vote on what you believe and how you feel your country should run.”

It doesn’t matter which side you are on as long as you vote says Pi Epsilon chapter vice president, Berhan Bayeh.

“Vote. It’s so simple. Let your voice be heard. Carry the lessons from the debates to Election Day. Stay engaged. Stay involved. The choices the leaders of this country make will affect us as young adults. Paying for college, health care and getting a job after graduation are some of the many important factors up for discussion in the coming election,” said Bayeh.

Voting on the state and local level is just as important. Who you vote for as the House or Senate member, county supervisor, or school board member is critical.

“These individuals are the lawmakers and voice of the constituents. They represent the ideals, issues and beliefs of the community. Be informed of their stance on various issues,” he said.

Political Science major and aspiring lawyer Jayvon Brown offered words of caution to voters who blindly vote for candidates because of race, religious or political belief.

“You hear some people say, ‘I’m voting for Obama because he’s black’. Why is that your only reason for voting? Why do you feel that is the determining factor on the reason you check his name on the ballot? There is much more to him than the color of his skin.” Tamera Matson is a self-described die-hard Democrat from a family of conservatives. Student debt sits among her top concerns. Matson, said she followed last summer's fight between Democrats and Republicans about student loan interest rates. She worries about her future and the partisanship she links to a sharply divided America. “Before the ink dried on Obama’s victory we had senior lawmakers predicting a one term presidency. Still, we as voters have to get the facts, spread the truth - call it like it is,” she said.

"Racism is alive and well. We have to educate, educate, educate.”

Patricia Carlson a Riverside parent whose son attends UCR reflects on the candidate debates.

“Okay President Obama did little to reject the lies and distortions,” she said.

“My hope is that our next president will not be chosen based upon how he performs in a debate. I think the debates are a circus designed to entertain rather that inform. The president’s record speaks for itself. ”

Imoohi says in many communities of color talking about politics is considered a “taboo,” along with religion and healthcare.

Registering someone to vote is merely the first step in the journey to democracy. “Don’t be afraid to have that conversation with someone else about politics, know both sides. Don’t give biased, one-sided remarks. Do your research. Know the facts.”

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