As the results of election night poured in Tuesday evening, about 40 UR students gathered in Dewey Hall to participate in UR the Vote – a series of workshops on civic engagement and voter mobilization that explained ways to get more involved in politics.

The event started with New York State Assemblyman David Koon, who spoke about getting personally involved in politics.

“I don’t care whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican, I just want to make a difference, make the world a better place and a safer place,” Koon said.

He talked about his personal experiences in politics and recounted how personal loss and involvement with grassroots issues led him to politics later in life when local officials were not responding to his concerns.

“When I first got involved in politics, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Koon said. “My campaign manager told me if I wanted to win I had to knock on every door in my district three times. I missed two days of knocking from July 1 to election day, and I got every door once.”

Koon also encouraged students to get involved in politics if they want to make a difference.

When asked how he made the biggest difference in politics, Koon replied, “Three years ago I convinced the [New York] Senate and Assembly to put up a $100 million bond [for enhanced 911 services] and it was vetoed by the governor. Both houses over-rode that veto. Today, any place you get cell phone service, you can call 911 and they will know where you are. We sure saved a lot of lives.”

After Assemblyman Koon spoke, professor Nora Bredes of the political science department spoke about the importance of grassroots’ level involvement in politics by voting in non-presidential elections.

“Voting [in a presidential election] is the smallest act you can do in a democracy.” Professor Bredes said. “At the local level, you can run into your representative at the supermarket.”

Bredes stressed the importance of local politics by talking about how different important issues were addressed locally before they became state laws.

“There was immense opposition to the bottle deposit law coming from beverage companies,” Bredes said. “They didn’t want any hindrance to block their dominance of the market. It was passed [for Suffolk County]. They then convinced Albany because they realized it would be more cost efficient if the whole state participated. It started locally, ‘in Suffolk.’

Bredes also discussed the influence made in breast cancer research funding and nuclear power at the local level, while she was politically involved in Suffolk County, N.Y.

“After the incident at Three Mile Island, I became very concerned about nuclear power,” she said. “The concern that a lot of people had in 1979 was about the risk that local communities had to bear. What was going to be a summer of working on the issue turned into 10 years of work, concerted organizing and activism – a decision was then made by then-Governor Cuomo to buy the plant in Suffolk County back and close it down.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Political Science Undergraduate Council, Black Students’ Union, Women’s Caucus, College Democrats, College Republicans and the Rochester Center for Community Leadership.

Students enjoyed Professor Bredes’ talk.

“I found her really interesting because I’m from Long Island so I related to the local issues,” freshman Hallie Cohn said. “I’m also interested in health issues and nuclear power.”

After Bredes spoke, a representative from the UR Career Center spoke about the availability of local political internships and stressed the importance of getting a resume ready to take advantage of available opportunities.

SA President and senior Matthew Goldblatt and Vice President and senior Katherine DelBalso then discussed ways for students to get involved in student government.

Wrapping up the evening, political science professor Lynda Powell talked about the availability of local internships and internships abroad for school credit.

During this session, students who had completed study abroad political internships recounted their positive experiences.

Freshman Tim Reinfeld was very interested in the international opportunities. “Study abroad was a big reason why I came here,” he said. “An alumnus I know got to study in London through UR and said it was one of the best experiences she ever had.”

Cohn concurred. “I came away a lot more interested in the school’s study abroad programs,” she said.

Farrell can be reached at nfarrell@campustimes.org.



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