NU interest group could outshine wanted vote block (Citywatch)

Andy Nelson

I was disenfranchised.

It happened last year, just months into my tenure at Northwestern, outside the voting booth set up at Parkes.

I had arrived an excited 18-year-old eager to vote for the first time in a national election. I left a typical cynic of my generation, railing against the Man.

What do you mean I’m not registered to vote? I sent in the form in September! I wrote “Democrat” — isn’t that what I’m supposed to do in Chicago? Did they know I had forgotten to cancel my registration in Kansas? Was I going to lose my citizenship? I was angry. I was confused. I felt as helpless as a hanging chad.

I never found out why I wasn’t registered to vote (perhaps it was lost in the mail). But now I am told I am about to be disenfranchised again. Evanston is in the process of redrawing its wards, a process that must take place after each census. The maps that have received the most attention, those proposed by Ald. Arthur Newman (1st), would divide the university’s on-campus population into three wards, rather than the two we currently occupy.

These maps would dilute student political power below a critical mass that must be very much on Newman’s mind; he only beat Kellogg Prof. Allan Drebin by 57 votes in the last aldermanic election. Removing students from his ward would help Newman secure a victory if Drebin or another professor runs in the 2005 election.

Associated Student Government has drawn up an alternative map that keeps students in two wards. Though I admire their attempt and would probably prefer their map over Newman’s, I am unsure their ultimate goal is worth pursuing.

After all, it’s not like students ever have been denied the right to vote — like blacks had been in the South. One of the reasons historically disenfranchised minorities are guaranteed representation is to ensure racial diversity in government. I don’t think any students are planning to run for alderman any time soon. But even if Nafis Ahmed were to climb the orange-balconied Optima building in a Spider-Man suit and inspire an electoral majority — and don’t think he couldn’t do it — a “Northwestern” alderman would still be just one vote against eight.

That’s not democracy; it’s political martyrdom.

I’m not saying students don’t deserve a voice. Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) was wrong when she recently said, “Real Evanston residents don’t leave during the summer.” But the ballot box is not the most effective ways for us to get things accomplished. If we want to protect the interests of students — not the university — we ought to do it the same way gun-owners, labor unions and businesses do.

No, not the Mafia. We should form a special-interest group. It would exist independently of the university and ASG, though it could consult them. But it also could interact with organizations like the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Neighbors for Peace or the Fair Share Action Committee.

Members of the group would attend Evanston City Council meetings to keep up on the issues. They might also present information there or provide a different perspective during resident comment time.

If students were seriously maligned by the city and no one cared, this group would also be prepared to make more noise than the visitors’ fans at an NU home game. But if it did its job right, it shouldn’t have to.

Such a group could not just represent our interests, but improve our reputation as well. Ill will between Evanston and NU has dominated the relationship and has undoubtedly prevented students from making their proper contribution to this city, either through volunteer time or intellectual resources. A concerned-students group could devise ways to do that directly. It could also work with off-campus residents to answer Evanston complaints about rowdiness.

It’s true that students must organize to guard our rights. But let’s do it now, not in 2005.