This past week I had the privilege — along with seven other politically nerdy badgers — to attend a conference with all other Big Ten schools with the exception of Northwestern. The technical and primary motivation behind the conference was to build camaraderie between schools and their student governments, which turned out to consist mostly of highly pretentious and title-obsessed students from other schools vying for who had the longer student government title. Us respectful and humble badgers were having none of it.
The more important and fulfilling purpose of the conference was that it served as an opportunity for student leaders from across the Big Ten to voice our concerns with the circumscription, if not the destruction of public higher education that’s currently being sought by House Republicans.
One such measure is the deliberately pro-private institution and disingenuously entitled Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform, PROSPER Act, HR 4508. Sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, the 600 pages of convoluted chaos are filled with provisions that will harm public school students and the poor the hardest. Provisions which would increase the government’s profit off of student loans, measures that would eliminate public service loan forgiveness as well as propositions to remove in-school interest subsidies that prevent accruing interest while in school all highlight the House bill is nothing but a shit show.
Lower voting age encourages civic action, habitual nature of votingIn the spring of 1971, during turmoil over the senseless Vietnam War, Congress ratified the 26th amendment to the Constitution, Read…
While meeting with both staffers and members of Congress from across Wisconsin and across the country, it’s clear even Republican legislators have their own concerns over the bill. It’s just another rushed attempt by Republicans to quickly force a bill through the legislature, piling everything together into one amalgamation of horror. One provision that struck me, and one we were directly able to find common ground with Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, about was on PROSPER’s efforts to curtail university’s from providing information on civic engagement and voter registration.
The current statute of USC 1094 states, “The institution … will make a good faith effort to distribute a mail voter registration form, requested and received from the State, to each student enrolled in a degree or certificate program and physically in attendance at the institution, and to make such forms widely available to students at the institution.” PROSPER removes this end clause, essentially removing the mandate that universities need to make this information readily available to its students.
In talks with Congressman Gallagher, he voiced his own confusion over the measure. After a few minutes of stumbling and trying to grasp the conservative logic of the measure he did not seem to be glued to, his staffer quickly chimed in suggesting “why is it the government’s right to infringe on if someone should vote or not.” It’s a rather weak argument, and one that’s fairly anti-Democracy in its execution. Despite contention between parties, Democracy and voting is usually good common ground to find.
Here in Wisconsin and across this country, this common ground is often misunderstood. We on the left believe universal voting is a universal right, and everyone regardless of their race or socio-economic status should be able to partake in Democracy. Those on the right, especially in Wisconsin, have instead inserted an affluent and white clause into their beliefs of Democracy, passing laws for voter ID and instituting barriers such as racialized and classist gerrymandering to ensure the most vulnerable citizens are repressed from voting.
It’s this second point the PROSPER Act embodies. There’s absolutely no reason to eliminate universities from assisting in the act of voting. Voting is a habitual act, and for those who enter college, many have only voted once or twice before in their lives. By providing resources on how and where to vote, like the University of Wisconsin does with vote.wisc.edu, the university is not forcing a partisan agenda down the throats of unsuspecting undergrads, rather it’s providing a public service for every one of its students.
Voter accessibility isn’t something that needs to be politicized, it should be free and open — it should be a vehicle for participation in politics and Democracy. But the Republicans who are pushing through this heinous bill are bent on ensuring the populations who have the hardest time voting miss the bus.
PROSPER’s implications go so much farther than just this, but finding common ground and chipping away, one horrible right-wing, pro-for-profit institution provision at a time will slowly give way to drafting a bill on higher education that actually has student interests included.
Adam Ramer ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in history and political science.