Even though it’s an off year, a general election is nevertheless upon us, with offices ranging from members of the Charlottesville City Council to the governor of Virginia on the ballot. By now, students who are registered to vote in Virginia should know their and the options available to them regarding transportation. A recent Cavalier Daily poll found that 78 percent of students claim to be registered to vote in Virginia, yet over half of students are unfamiliar with local politics. The University administration does not make significant efforts to encourage student political engagement, leaving it to students to encourage each other’s awareness of and involvement in what transpires in both the city and the state. As members of the Charlottesville community, students need to be continuously informed about local issues and political figures.
The Cavalier Daily poll also revealed that 73 percent of students are not familiar with the , the body which makes the major policy decisions for the City of Charlottesville. In another question regarding students’ approval of the job which the Council is doing, almost 60 percent said they had no opinion. Another question asked students if they recognized the City Council candidates running for this upcoming election. It seems that students have a limited awareness of the candidates. The events of August are still fresh and the sociopolitical tensions are evident. If students choose not to become actively engaged, students need to develop an awareness of what’s going on around them — particularly what decisions are being made for the city they live in.
While it is discouraging that students remain so disengaged from local politics, the University provides students with the opportunity to become more involved in local politics through certain courses. For example, Assoc. History Prof. Andrew Kahrl has taken to incorporate civic engagement into his U.S. History course titled “All Politics is Local.” The course discusses how political power works in both the local community as well as in the greater political context of the United States. The class requires that the students volunteer in political efforts that encourage engagement both on and off Grounds. Not to mention, the course pushes students to apply what they’ve learned in classroom to real-life situations in the way that a college education should.
The City of Charlottesville has been the center of attention amidst increasingly visible racial tensions. Students and locals alike have witnessed white supremacists rallies, student protests and subsequent arguments among Council members — all of which affect how we live and interact with each other. As residents of Charlottesville, we have a say in what goes on around us, and the general election is the perfect time to make sure that we are proud of our city.