College students across the state of Wisconsin have been mired in political upheaval and surrounded by opportunity since Gov. Walker introduced his Budget Repair Bill in February 2011.
Tuesday in the country’s third gubernatorial recall election, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett faced-off with Gov. Walker who was declared the victor.
Students of diverse political persuasions played an integral role in the democratic process from the first protest through the recall voting.
“Being able to participate in the process clearly showed students were very much engaged in what is happening in Wisconsin and very much wanted to be part of it,” said Andy Suchorski, a senior majoring in political science at Marquette University and chairman of the College Democrats.
The Budget Repair Bill was written to address Wisconsin’s debt crisis and balance its $137 million budget deficit for the year. This same bill also restricted many public employees’ collective bargaining rights to wages.
The rage it caused for many was immediate.
Thousands of protestors descended on Wisconsin’s capital city Madison for weeks of rallies. Children sat on their parents shoulders and University of Wisconsin-Madison students stood side by side with their professors singing in drum circles and marches.
Activists, who slept overnight in the Capitol, alternated chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Scott Walker has got to go” and “This is what democracy sounds like” with solidarity songs created by replacing the words of patriotic tunes with lyrics specific to Wisconsin.
A group singing these solidarity songs has been gathering outside the Capitol each day at noon to serenade passersby since March 11.
Such strong reactions to the legislation provoked Gov. Walker’s recall.
“College students were part of this process from day one,” Suchorski said.
College Democrats delivered protest valentines to Gov. Walker, collected tens of thousands of signatures for the recall petition, canvassed and organized rallies.
“The level of engagement from college students was really remarkable,” Suchorski said.
College Republicans in Wisconsin organized rallies, identified supporters and maintained a presence on Facebook and Twitter, according the Republican Party of Wisconsin Communication Chair Ben Sparks.
“They’ve been recruiting volunteers. They’ve been getting Republican college students registered to vote, and they have been effective [at] pushing our message to their peers,” Sparks said.
College Republicans also made phone calls on behalf of Gov. Walker, according to Jeff Snow, Chairman of the University of Wisconsin, Madison chapter.
The group worked to remain visible in Madison during the recall process writing editorials for The Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal, student newspapers at UW.
“I think that we’ve definitely increased our exposure due to our cooperation with The Herald and The Cardinal,” Snow said.
The open policy of The Herald’s editorial page provides the opportunity for members of the right and left to submit content for publication consideration, said Ryan Rainey, editor in chief for the approaching academic year.
“We don’t have an editorial page that leans to any specific side of the political spectrum. Writers can just write what they want as long as it’s not extremely incendiary and ridiculous,” Rainey said.
The Badger Herald later endorsed Barrett.
“We are big fans of moderation. We really try to take a middle of the road stance, an independent stance to our editorial decisions,” Rainey said. “We thought Barrett was the best choice to endorse because he represents that moderation that’s really a tradition in Wisconsin politics.”
Other UW students, like Maxwell Love, helped register students to vote through the Relational Voter Program. Through the program, activists reached out to members of their social networks and encouraged them to participate in the recall election. Using TurboVote, a voter registration tool, interested students were then mailed a registration form with an envelope already addressed and stamped.
“When the recalls came along, the biggest thing for me was making sure students knew how to vote and making sure they were registered to vote,” Love said.
The students who took an active role in the recall will carry the lessons they learned to inform future election decisions and shape their careers.
Snow’s experience as a participant in the recall process strengthened his resolve for conservatism, he said.
“People need to be aware. [The recall] made me realize that college students need to get involved, and we need to get our message across. Political apathy on campus is a problem, and we definitely need to fix that,” Snow said.
“Students shook off the image that they were apathetic by participating the way they did. It showed me they cherished every part of the process, working on something they truly believe in,” Suchorski said.
For The Herald Editor Ryan Rainey, his experience strengthened his skills as a student journalist.
“It’s a very emotional time for everyone here. When you’re a journalist, it’s really tough not to convey any emotion, to stay level-headed. I think everyone in journalism in Wisconsin probably has had to deal with that at least to a minor extent,” Rainey said.
The recall may well have lasting effects beyond the policies enacted by Gov. Walker.
“People always say that politics can occur and people can still be part of the community, but it really seems like this is an election that has really divided people in a different way than before,” Love said.
Powered by Facebook Comments