Local elections for towns in which we as college students don’t currently spend much time might not seem glamorous, but the change that happens is more visible and sometimes more consequential, especially if we expect to live there again. It affects everything from the taxes we pay to the quality of life our families or future selves can expect. For students at the University of Massachusetts who are registered in Amherst, one can expect their vote to affect their experience on campus and around town as well.
But students shouldn’t assume local politics are simple just because they’re local. In fact, they can be just as cutthroat, confusing or inane as national politics. They can also be as passionate. Since the polarization that arose in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the highest office of the land, the lowest levels of government are seeing the implications with similarly intense debates. Just like national elections, this leads to hard choices.
A good example is happening right in my ward. Two women are running for the seat on the school committee board and one, who I’ve met, has already made an impression on me. According to my family, the other hasn’t canvassed our street. On top of that, she has strongly associated herself with members of the current established political system, people that I have various policy and private disagreements with.
But no election comes without twists and turns. The candidate that made a good impression on me started to get attacked in the newspapers and on social media for her connections to various charter school institutions. If that doesn’t sound like a compelling critique, it should be noted that this is a hot-button issue in my city. This is true for me, too: I wrote an article for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian strongly opposing the charter school expansion last November, expressing many of the negative impacts of our local charter school.
Working at a charter school is not a big deal, but allegations arose that this candidate worked at powerful charter organizations and even received money from charter moguls in Massachusetts. To make matters more dramatic, Malden’s chapter of Our Revolution, the successor to the Bernie Sanders movement, denounced the candidate and endorsed the other. I was, as the average college student would say, “shook.”
On one hand, I agree with this candidate on almost every issue and my anti-establishment self is predisposed to avoid more of the status quo in a city that I view as unwilling to change. On the other hand, I’m also suspicious of big money forces in politics, so the issue with my candidate is a worthy consideration. All things considered, what do I do? Is rejecting a candidate for a single flaw irresponsible, or would overlooking it make me hypocritical, voting against an interest I have come down on time and time again?
This requires a bit of soul-searching for every young voter, since this question will revisit us continuously through the years. But my own interpretation came to me fairly quickly. When an election ends, our work as an electorate is not over. Voting is not a reward, a gift or even an endorsement, as many seem to imply. It’s much more similar to a loan; I’m giving one candidate the opportunity to impress me. I expect a return on my vote, and if I don’t get one, I’ll be voting again to reverse my decision. Because of this, a single glaring flaw is more than tolerable, since it gives me something with which to hold my candidate responsible.
As a matter of fact, I used the same rationale when I supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of course she wasn’t a perfect candidate relative to my views, but in a democracy it is these flaws that we can use to leverage people in office. Many view this idea under the philosophy of ‘perfect is the enemy of the good,’ though I feel this distracts from the main point. Imperfections are not to be overlooked and ignored; if we did ignore them, we are not holding our government accountable. Nor do a candidate’s aspirations block us from speaking our mind — we are individuals, not party hacks.
But what we are doing is looking holistically to find the most perfect candidate, a relative and complex measurement that requires thoughtful consideration. Some years we are forced into a corner and must set back a few of our goals for the sake of advancing others. That’s okay, so long as you vote. Voting is how we put a stake in the ground, create a worthy point of reference and continue the debate about what matters and how to fix it.
Every voter gets to define what their vote means. But in my short experience so far, it seems best not to define your vote too strictly. Party, specific policies and personalities are secondary to deciding which option gives you a path to change, rather than instant gratification. Which path gives you the most power? The choice is in your hands.
James Mazarakis is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]