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Call to action

What happened to the legacy of student activism in Greensboro? Our city has a reputation for political engagement and a historical precedent for student involvement in politics. We all know about the A&T Four, whose actions helped spur the nationwide civil rights movement. Their actions were part of a larger pattern of civic engagement in the US. Many signs point to the decline of that sentiment in recent times — YES! Weekly’s Eric Ginsburg highlighted part of that a while back in his article, “Why Don’t People Vote?” My question: if we know that they don’t, what can we do to change it?

My name is Tim Leisman and I am vice chair of the Greensboro Collegiate Coalition. We are a grassroots group organized and led entirely by college students.

I am a junior at Guilford College and Chair Mitchell Brown is a senior at NC A&T University. At our board meetings, we have diverse representation from each of the area schools: the student government presidents from UNCG, Bennett College, and A&T, Miss Bennett 2011- 2012 and various student organizations such as the NAACP, Beta Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and JoinMe Ent. Our whole team is passionate and ready to engage their peers.

Voting is down on the collegiate level.

In 2008 Greensboro was electrified by the energy of the Obama/McCain campaigns and students and the general population registered and voted in record numbers. However, this energy did not remain in Greensboro for municipal elections. The following year, about one-seventh of the 2008 voters cast their votes; in 2010, a little more than half. While we can only wait and see what happens, we can stand up now to change our city.

Our mission at GCC is to bring this energy back. On Wednesday, Oct. 26 we are hosting a student/community voting march and rally called JoinMe at the Polls. The energy is building on college campuses. If you look around at bulletin boards you can see our posters going up. Marchers are meeting at 1:30 p.m. at the Minerva Statue at UNCG and the A&T Four statue at A&T, and then walking to the Governmental Plaza for a rally featuring student speakers and artists from local colleges, along with the president of the Greensboro Voter Alliance, Lewis Beveridge. In order to become more informed about the candidates and issues, we also encourage students to attend the Greensboro Partnership’s candidates forum that we are co-sponsoring this Thursday evening.

Many students might say that the 2008 election was a national election, why should they care about municipals? As Mitchell put it, the city council “has a lot of influence concerning what jobs come to Greensboro and what opportunities our city has.” Part of their role is to make the city a welcoming environment both for young professionals just out of college, and businesses ready to hire those graduates. Despite Greensboro’s huge college population, there is a failure on the city’s part to create this environment. Students should take a stand on the issues that affect our future.

Here is where we as students are empowered! There are in total nearly 50,000 students in Greensboro, quite literally enough to decide a municipal election one way or another (only 35,152 citizens voted in 2009, according to the Greensboro Board of Elections). But that is only if we all vote. When considering our place within the city of Greensboro, it is imperative that we make our voices heard in the process of determining the leaders that steer the city. In a larger perspective, if we are apathetic in choosing these leaders, how can we expect opportunities to just present themselves to us?

This year it’s time for students to lead the charge and be role models for the rest of the city. Once upon a lunch counter, just four students from NC A&T changed the world by sitting down. This year it’s time for students stand up and make their voices heard to change the city.

Tim Leisman, Greensboro