Guest column: Louisiana must do more to help voters

This post was originally published on TheAdvocate.com. You can find it here.

The national election is just weeks away, but last spring Louisiana took some small but important steps that make it easier for students at public colleges to vote.

Public schools are now required to include student signatures on their student identification cards so student voters can use them as ID at the polls.

More must be done.

Private colleges are not included. Community college leaders managed to wiggle out of their responsibility, as lawmakers exempted the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

Voting rights are one of America’s hard-fought national values. For students, exercising their right is often a gauntlet that highlights a need for increased student advocacy across the state in order to secure voting rights for all.

In fall 2014, a classmate and I started Geaux Vote LSU dedicated to helping LSU students vote by providing them with the resources for navigating Louisiana’s opaque voting laws. Among our work was lobbying for students to be able to use their student IDs to vote.

As a student, navigating this process could not have be more complicated — it is no wonder that voter turnout for 18-34 year olds was a dismal 20 percent in the last two statewide elections.

http://www.lsunow.com/daily/young-louisiana-voters-lack-significant-impact-in-presidential-race/article_c74977ae-de5d-11e5-a370-67dd93b00f40.html

If you are a student, you have the option to register in your hometown or your college home. Easy enough. But you need proper identification. Early voting, which lasts only a week in Louisiana and is closed on Sundays, typically falls squarely during classes and has only one polling place within five miles of the LSU.

Now, more than ever, students have a stake in our elections. While low voter turnout continues to shame this demographic, legislators across the country — with Louisiana among the top of the list — have cut higher education funding. Student debt is skyrocketing. Meanwhile, those in office feel few consequences on election day for neglecting the largest group of people in the United States.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/25/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/

Thankfully, there have been more steps toward helping students vote. LSU’s campus bus system, for example, stops at East Baton Rouge Parish’s early voting polling precinct. Out-of-state students waiting for their college to redesign their IDs can now go to their local DMV and get a special ID for voting.

But why does it have to be so hard? Through these barriers, students are effectively placed in a special category of citizenship; a class in which disenfranchisement is commonplace yet politicians and pundits wonder why voter turnout is so egregiously low.

Louisiana has a sordid history of denying voting rights — from literacy tests to intimidation at the polls. The fight for equal enfranchisement has been long and hard for many, not just students.

We started Geaux Vote LSU because we knew that turnout was low, and wanted to know why. What we discovered was that not only were students not registered, but there were steep barriers preventing registration. This transformed my perspective on the fight for increased voter participation. We are failing college students and then criticizing them for their apathy.

So where do we go from here? First, we should restore the federal Voting Rights Act to its original intent. Several voting regulations —particularly Louisiana’s inadequate early voting period — would likely not be allowed if the part of the law that required federal preclearance for states like Louisiana had not been undone by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Students must make voter awareness a priority. There are already groups working in the trenches — from campus organizations like Geaux Vote LSU to national organizations like Rock the Vote and the Andrew Goodman Foundation. But they need the support of their campuses’ most influential groups, from student government to Greek life to athletics.

Increasing student voter turnout could greatly strengthen student clout on issues they care about.

Be annoying

Panelists discuss the potential budget cuts to higher education (photo via The New Orleans Advocate).

Panelists discuss the potential budget cuts to higher education. (Photo via The New Orleans Advocate)

On Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Geaux Vote LSU held a Higher Education Forum in the Holliday Forum in the Journalism Building. The panelists were  LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander, University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley and Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller. The evening was full of thoughtful discussion and advice to students on how to move forward.

Two words from Dr. Alexander stuck out the most to me: be annoying.

Those words resonated with me because they were a reminder that consistent efforts will not go unnoticed. For better or for worse, one thing is true: only the loudest voices will be heard. In this case, it is the loud, persistent and annoying student voices that will be heard.

Geaux Vote LSU worked really hard to plan this forum and spread the word far and to well received audiences. Students have clearly been concerned, and were interested in hearing what public officials had to say about those concerns. However, we still did not get the attendance we wanted. So at the end of the discussion when the panelists—all dedicated public officials—urged us to stand up for ourselves, it was clear to me what the real downfall will be for students.

If we lose everything, it will be because students were not annoying. Rather than express their concern, students are staying home and waiting for the crap to hit the fan. When millions of dollars in budget cuts rain down on Louisiana college students in the form of cut courses, degree devaluation, extended graduation, cut programs and the like, students will have few to blame but themselves.

It’s incredibly simple: legislators do not listen to students because students give them no reason to. We do not vote and we do not show up. Student decisions are made by everyone except the student. The budget cuts will be no different if we do not make a change.

However, this revelation is not a deterrent. There are students who are expressing their concerns in the form of action. Myself and other students will take those concerns to the Capitol. Student voices will be at the public hearing for the budget cuts.

But will that be enough?

A few students can make a difference, but we cannot speak for 300,000 college students (Though we are certainly going to try). More students need to take action. All students need to take action. Students need to find their legislator’s emails, mailing addresses and phone numbers, and start blowing up every form of communication with their concerns. (I’ll even help you out with the first step: here’s the state legislature website). Students need to show up to the Capitol and start talking to anyone who will listen. Students need to show their faces, because that is the only way to get our voices heard.

It’s time to be annoying.

Why is no one asking students what they think about the higher ed budget?: Valencia Richardson and Kira Schuette

This post was originally posted in NOLA.com. You can find it here.

Higher education in Louisiana is currently making headlines in light of the budget crisis that could possibly trigger $300 million in budget cuts. Since our governor is currently on the presidential campaign trail and Louisiana has divested more from higher education than just about every other state, this crisis has naturally called attention from all over.

The Washington Post has covered it. So has The New York Times. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and the Baton Rouge Advocate have been extensively covering the issue. Politico did a particularly interesting article on the ramifications this mess could have on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign. Though the coverage has been directed towards Jindal and his campaign, there has been adequate attention on the numbers and the facts behind the budget crisis.

There’s only one problem: Not a single article has asked a single Louisiana student how we feel about this. Students across the state have been reading, listening and watching updates on the budget crisis, but we have not once been asked about our reactions or our proposals. Since no one has asked us, we have come to the conclusion that we must represent our own interests.

We are concerned. At best, these spending reductions will cut numerous programs and result in the layoff of hundreds of people, including many of our instructors and professors. At worst, the budget cuts will be so devastating that schools will have to close their doors.

We are strapped for cash. In the last five years, tuition at LSU has increased by 200 percent, a fact that our governor doesn’t seem to know. Despite the possible tax credit for college students and potential revenue from a controversial cigarette tax, an additional increase is all but unavoidable. This is a frightening inevitability, especially since no one seems to know exactly how deep these cuts will go.

We are aggravated. On Jan. 24, Gov. Jindal held a prayer rally on our campus that gathered a crowd of thousands. In the midst of this were numerous protests, including one protesting Jindal’s proposed cuts to higher education that was largely ignored by both Jindal and the press. Student grassroots organizations are popping up all over the place, and students have even taken to the state Capitol in an effort to have their voices heard, all to little avail. It is hardly surprising that no one has had anything to say to these groups — Jindal’s administration has remained largely silent on the entire issue — but it is frustrating nonetheless.

We understand the assumption that goes along with students and political issues. The budget is a very complicated and complex document. Students are assumed to be indifferent about these issues because they are hard to understand. And it’s true; these issues require significant study.

However, there are particular facts we certainly do understand and cannot ignore. We understand that the size of the cuts is roughly equivalent to the size of TOPS and the entire community and technical college operating budget. We can foresee that cuts this large will lead to increased tuition and in turn increased financial strain on ourselves and our families. We know that if we lose course instructors, course offerings will soon follow. We suspect that if courses are cut, our pathway to graduation is threatened or lengthened.

We seek input into the conversation; our futures are on the line. At the end of the day, neither the Jindal administration nor the state Legislature will have to worry about how they are going to pay for school next year. The burden of lost professors and deteriorating infrastructure won’t just fall on the university. These changes will become part of our everyday experience.

As students, we understand the nature of our jobs and the job of the Legislature. However, we feel that the interests of those directly affected by the multi-million dollar cuts should be represented at the table. Everyone’s asked Gov. Jindal. They’re asking the Legislature, public policy experts, pundits and the like.

Why haven’t they asked us?

Valencia Richardson and Kira Schuette are co-founders of Geaux Vote LSU. They are joined in this opinion essay by Garrett Clawson, co-chapter leader, Students for Education Reform at LSU; Lauren Guillot, president, Common Sense Action LSU, and Emmanuel Smith, president, Students for Education Reform LSU.

Hillary Clinton (breaking walls and taking names): part 2

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[Note: I’ll continue to use Lawrence and Rose’s Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House as a companion to this series.]

In this second part, I will be discussing Hillary Clinton and the role the media played (and continues to play) in how she is perceived by the public. In order to examine this effectively, it is best to look at the political climate at the time of her first presidential campaign.

The 2008 Democratic nomination campaign was obviously a monumental one. Both candidates were unconventional, so no matter the outcome there would be historical implications. In my opinion, there could not have been a more perfect time for this match-up; the country was just coming out of the Bush-era, unsatisfied with conventional politics and ready for a change of pace. Because of the heightened stakes—the prospect of a black guy or woman Head of State—media coverage was imperative.

The book argues that media coverage surrounding Hillary Clinton was less than unbiased. The suggestion that “the standard media routines for covering presidential candidates served [Clinton] particularly poorly” is generally denied by the media themselves (10). However, considering that the media spent weeks covering Hillary’s “new title as grandma” in the midst of more important Clinton Global Initiative events going on, the argument doesn’t seem completely unfounded.

The more conspiratorial argument dates the media’s negative perception of Hillary Clinton all the way back to her days as the First Lady. President Bill Clinton, a popular president in his own right , made it known that Hillary would have an influence in much of what he did as president—even claiming that in electing him the people would get “two for the price of one.”

This came at a time when, according to a CBS News article, America was unsure about having such an involved First Lady, making her quite the divisive subject. Republican commentator Roger Stone reiterated this sentiment; calling her “grating, abrasive and boastful,” he commented that Hillary Clinton was coming in at time when “[t]here’s a certain familiar order of things, and the notion of a coequal couple in the White House is a little offensive to men and women.”

After her stint in the White House, Hillary Clinton’s positions and experience, both as a New York Senator and as Secretary of State, earned her more popularity and widespread acceptance as a credible leader. However, this did not play into her favor as well as it should have during the 2008 election.

According to the book, research found that Clinton’s coverage was more negative due to agenda setting and framing in the media; this in turn clouded the more substantial issues presented during the campaign (181). In other words, heavy horse-race coverage and “lack of substance” (182) within reporting severely damaged how she was perceived by the public.

But if her coverage lacked so much substance, what exactly was being covered in the race? That answer lies within the statistics. In a study that analyzed the covers of the New York Times, Los Angeles Ties and Washington Post, as well as CBS, ABC and NBC news programs, it was found that approximately 1 percent of stories headlined with Hillary Clinton’s name here issue-framed stories, 89 percent of those stories were horse-race coverage (183).  Data also showed that within the types of negative coverage by the media, Hillary Clinton had a higher rate than both John McCain and Barrack Obama of criticisms of personal characteristics and criticisms of strategies/tactics (184).

I believe this suggests a biased coverage of Hillary Clinton by the media. The race for president has always been a boy’s game, and both the media and the public had a hard time reconciling her as “one of the boys.” Associating a woman as president is an uneasy decision because of the social norms currently in place.

Despite all of this, I do believe that Hillary Clinton’s chances in the next election (if she chooses to run) are much stronger than in 2008. As of recent, media coverage, though it could be much better, has been doing a better job of bolstering Hillary Clinton’s credibility, particularly through her work in the Clinton Global Initiative. Her activism within CGI will likely work to her advantage in the upcoming election.

The current political climate could also work to her favor. Polls are now showing that her being a woman might be her best selling  point . Because of the election of President Obama, a precedent has already been set, which could make way for a campaign trail that doesn’t focus on how surprising it is that she is running (in 2008, the “it’s so shocking” coverage suggested that her election was so unconventional that it wasn’t meant to succeed). There is so much speculation surrounding her nomination, and so many polls that show  that her Democratic nomination bid is all but certain, that it seems unlikely that media will present her in the same manner as in 2008.  See: rep noms vs hc

rep noms vs hc

Hillary Clinton (breaking walls and taking names): Part 1

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With the possibility of Hillary Clinton running for President in 2016 looming, I thought it appropriate to conclude the school year with a series on Hillary Clinton. This first part will introduce the three-part series by discussing the barrier Hillary Clinton faced in 2012, and will face if she chooses to run in 2016.

In addition, I will be using a book that I am reading as a companion to the series. The book, Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail is a book operating on the preface that the primary reason that Hillary Clinton lost in 2008 is because she is a woman. Providing commentary from different sources, statistics and historical background for their argument, I believe this book makes some interesting points that will complement my own thoughts throughout this series.

Recently, Jon Stewart addressed the barriers that women face in politics and the media. In particular, he discussed the recent influx of media attention Hillary Clinton has gotten after her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, announced that she was pregnant. After making the announcement, many news outlets pondered on whether or not Hillary becoming a grandmother will affect her running in 2016—a question, as Jon Stewart put it, “that has never, ever been posed to a male candidate ever.”

This question is indicative of one of the many barriers women face when running for any major office, nevertheless a presidency. The book summarizes this problem succinctly: “being a woman generally helps candidates when the stereotypical expectations for women coincide with the expectation office, but hurts when the expectations for women conflict with the expectations of the job” (23). This is why women have a considerably easier time gaining positions at the local level or in the higher position of governor, where the focus is more domestic (education, health care) than in in Congress or in the presidency, where the focus is more national and international (foreign policy, economic).

The office of President is considered a man’s job because the issues are considered more androcentric. The President has to be tough, willing to make the hard decisions and be able to handle foreign policy. Women are at an immediate disadvantage because two of those three behaviors (toughness, hard decision making) are traditionally unbecoming of the conventional woman.

True womanhood—what society perceives as the nature and responsibility of women—initially meant being selfless, emotional, and “untouched by both private vices and public life” (31). Though women’s suffrage movements have moved society past some of these expectations, the stigma still remains. A woman is more emotional and more domestic, and thus unable to hand the pressures of the presidency.

Another significant barrier is the current state of the political system. The book observes that there are essentially four ways that a person can become president, and that these have been the only ways we know since recent memory. The “pathways to presidency” are: 1) the military, 2) the vice presidency, 3) a governorship or 4) Congress (24). Considering these factors, this leaves only two ways that a woman has a chance at the presidency. Combined with media pressures and perception (as examined by Jon Stewart), this leaves creates a very difficult path for women.

Though no woman has ever won the presidency, it has not been for lack of trying. Ten women have run for President in the past with little impact and outrageously biased media coverage (one woman, Patricia Schroeder, was criticized for years after crying in an emotional withdrawal speech). See: women who have paved the way

Hillary Clinton is different. In 2012, she came in at a time of conventional presidency and almost won the nomination, finally presenting the first realistic possibility of a female president. She served as a US Senator and Secretary of State, the first First Lady to do so. Despite media scrutiny and ridiculous commentary about her next title of grandma, she continues to remain the strongest contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination. And to boot, she now has a leg up after Barrack Obama officially broke the barriers for every unconventional candidate by becoming our first African American president.

If anyone has a chance of tearing down the taboos that constrain women, it will be Hillary Rodham Clinton.

women who have paved the way

From Huff Post: 8 Hollywood Women Who Have Called Out Industry Sexism

This is a very interesting article to read:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/sexism-in-hollywood-women-problem-inequality_n_4867219.html

Often we forget that media includes movies. The perception of women in film is almost just as important as in news media. We are constantly being influenced by the things we see, including in fiction. Read the article above and see what a few actresses have to say about it!

Oscars with a poli-fem twist

The award season typically comes with a lot of discussion in the media and in the speeches given by the winners. This year at the Oscars, which arguably the most prestigious award in film, many a speech was given that nodded at current social and political. As this is a highly publicized event televised around the world, a platform like this is a good one for getting a message across.

From Bono’s song about Mandela, Ordinary Love, to the wins achieved by the historically relevant films 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, there was certainly a lot to reflect upon. One of my favorite, aside from Jared Leto’s phenomenal acceptance speech for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, was Cate Blanchett’s acceptance speech for Best Actress for her work in Blue Jasmine.

In it, she address the typical notion that successful films with women in dominant roles are rare, saying that notion is “foolish” and assuring the audiences that “in fact, they earn money” (which in fact resulted in a nice applause). You can watch it here.

Though it may have gained a little controversy because she thanked Woody Allen, I am still impressed that she used her win to address such a pressing issue on such a large format.

Hunger Games looks into the future

With Catching Fire coming on DVD soon (yay!) and the film world abuzz about the next Hunger Games movie coming out in December, Mockingjay: Part 1, the Hunger Games has been on my mind a lot. Spoiler alert: this post will reveal parts of the story.

Katniss Everdeen is one of my favorite heroines in any novel I’ve ever read. It’s particularly enlightening to see such a strong female role model for the trilogy’s teenage audience. But what I like most about the Hunger Games how the books implicates modern politics and gives way for strong female characters.

In the story, Panem is a post-apocalyptic version of our society, divided into twelve (initially thirteen) districts run by the Capitol. In Catching Fire, we discover that the thirteenth district, initially thought to be defunct, has gone underground and is planning an attack on the Capitol to overthrow the totalitarian government.

Katniss Everdeen is used as a sort of figurehead for the revolution, motivating the other districts to stand against the Capitol and to boost morale. But Katniss’ strength, intelligence and diligence makes her a real-life figurehead for the modern feminist movement. She’s a lead female hero, a soldier and a de facto leader. Despite her initial reluctance, she becomes a key player in the overthrow of the Capitol.

The politics of Panem has clear parallels to that of our society. The  revolutionary group does not have a purely democratic objective. The president of District 13, Alma Coin, wants to take over the Capitol and form a republic, but Katniss (and the reader) detects other motives as well. Once it is revealed that Alma Coin ordered the hit on the Capitol that killed Katniss’s sister and plans to keep the Hunger Games going, Katniss realizes that Alma’s motives are no better than President Snow’s. She kills Alma Coin, and another character, the district 8 leader Commander Paylor, becomes the leader of the new government of Panem.

There are subtleties within the novels that should be praised, mainly in the portrayal of the female characters. The leadership throughout the novel is predominantly female. Because their is minimal discussion about the somewhat unconventional situation, a sense of normalcy is placed on the issue.

This communicates the notion that women as head of state is normal, not unconventional (Katniss the figurehead, Alma Coin the revolutionary leader and Paylor the eventual president of Panem). This is important because it explores possibilities of female leadership beyond what we currently believe is possible. Without even trying, Suzanne Collins gave us a glimpse into a future of a new social structure.