In defense of Evanston apathy

    If a mayor runs in an election, and nobody voted, did the mayor still run? Photo by Mike Elsen-Rooney / North By Northwestern

    The above picture documents a colossal democratic failure to which I am an accomplice, and you are too.

    If you were aware of today’s mayoral and aldermanic elections, you certainly didn’t show it. As of 3 p.m., 16 people had voted in Parkes Hall. Election Judge Bruce Baumberger estimated that about half of them were students.

    While it’s possible that the late afternoon inspired masses of teary-eyed patriots to storm the chapel, or that the other voting booths did better, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that of our more than 8,000 undergraduates, more than 8,000 did not vote for their local public servants. We, the students, have collectively told the rest of Evanston that we just don’t care who will represent us. I am proud to say that I am one such apathetic heathen.

    I don’t have any excuses — I did not vote in Evanston’s elections today despite being registered in this fine city. It just never crossed my mind. I put more thought into brushing my teeth this morning than I did into who would make a better candidate for Mayor or Alderman of the town I inhabit for 9-12 months of the year.

    Are we traitors to the other 80,000 citizens — or however many citizens that actually turned the levers — who live between Howard and Isabella? Maybe. Do I have any regrets, and should you? Not at all.

    Non-voters missed out on the chance to have a say in the Church Street Tower debate, off-campus students’ property taxes, and other issues encompassed in “town-gown relations.” Those issues all directly affect us, sure. But affect is a fuzzy and vague word for a reason. I’m affected by the taxes I pay on my apartment, but not nearly as much as by my grades this quarter or whether or not I get a summer internship (and hey, my parents are paying rent anyways.) I might grimace if I see an ugly tower poking phallicly into the sky as I walk to the grocery store, but I’ll get over it in about 0.45 milliseconds and continue about my day.

    Having our say in these issues pertains to our self-interest, but studying, looking for jobs and nursing hangovers actually matter more to us on a day-to-day basis. Even the closing of the beloved Café Ambrosia — sad, yes, but can you honestly say that you’re any less happy to be at Northwestern because of it?

    Besides, do those in Evanston really want our voices to be heard? We don’t live in Evanston, we live in The People’s Republic of Northwestern. Walk a mile west of the sorority quads on Emerson Street — never mind the southern part of the city – and you’ll notice that the rest of the city operates in an entirely different universe. We’re under Evanston law, but unless you’ve got a BB gun in your backpack, you’re much more beholden to the school’s tuition, meal plans and institutional quirks. We don’t know Evanston, and we don’t really need to.

    And hey, maybe I am hocking a lugie at Uncle Sam and ignoring my democratic duty. I do think that students should “care” about the world in the most SESP way possible, but that’s why I’m glad students can devote the hours spent not getting to know Evanston’s four mayoral candidates on something much more important. There’s no shortage of opportunities to be altruistic in this area — just ask the fine citizens of Chicago’s numerous struggling, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

    I followed the presidential campaign feverishly, and got verklempt with the rest of Northwestern and the Chicagoland area in Grant Park on Nov. 4. But it will go down as a “once in a lifetime” experience because it was an actually compelling political campaign. And that’s not necessarily a depressing thought — I’m happy to live in a situation in which my fellow citizens’ ability to make a correct collective decision will not change my livelihood enough to get me off the couch. Until those decision-making skills decline, I’ll stay away from Evanstonian democracy with the rest of the non-voting student masses.

    Mike Elsen-Rooney contributed reporting.


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