Long Beach State hosted a virtual election-focused event Tuesday featuring Sen. Cory Booker and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who discussed voter participation and why voting should matter to students.
Moderated by CSULB Sustainability Coordinator Holli Fajack, the “Why Your Vote Matters” event also featured Melissa Romero, California League of Conservation Voters legislative affairs manager, who discussed several statewide initiatives on the November ballot and other voter information.
Booker emphasized the importance of voter participation in recalling a story of a friend who was elected mayor by a single vote, which offered words of encouragement to students who may have lost faith in the voting process.
“Don’t give me that stuff about ‘your vote doesn’t matter,’” Booker said. “Never underestimate how your one vote is going to trigger the action behaviors of other people.”
He said he felt that “every one of us is an activist” who has the ability to influence the behavior of others.
“When it comes to the well being of our nation as a whole, these elections have profound consequences,” Booker said. “Often I think sometimes that the system is designed to make us feel small and to underestimate our own power. The most important thing to do is get out there and be an activist. You are an influencer to the people that look towards you.”
He referenced how, during the last presidential election, “it came down to one vote at every polling place.”
“If one vote at every polling place had just shifted, they would have won,” he said. “Those electoral college votes would have shifted and gone for the Democratic candidate.”
Booker said he understood where students were coming from in their concerns that the government is corrupt and does not represent them accurately.
“The problems are so large, [so] why should I do anything [if] the system is rigged against me [and] corporations and the powerful [are] doing everything they can to suppress us?” he said.
Referencing Frederick Douglass, the suffrage movement and the Stonewall Riot, Booker reminded the audience of the power of persistence and said to not betray hope “by surrendering to cynicism.”
“At the center of all great movements are young people who didn’t care about their age, who didn’t believe that they couldn’t make a difference, that didn’t wait for permission, that didn’t wait in line,” Booker said. “Stand out, be bold, manifest your own ideas, use your moral imagination about how to challenge what’s wrong because there are things that are terribly wrong in our country and terribly anti-democratic.”
Booker empathized with students who have expressed feelings of hopelessness toward the government, recounting a time shortly after he had lost the 2002 election for mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and felt he had lost faith in his country.
He said he was walking in his neighborhood and “stumbled upon a shooting where there was a teenage boy bleeding out.”
“I had the gruesome experience of trying to stop a teenager from bleeding to death. It was gruesome. It was awful,” Booker said. “I just remember begging him not to die, but feeling his life go, his pulse stop. His blood was all over me as I was trying to do just everything I could to stop him from dying.”
He said he remembered being in his bathroom, scrubbing the boy’s blood off his hands, “tapping into a rage” he had never felt before.
“I was so angry at my country that seemed to allow child after child, Black boy after Black boy, to die, and it didn’t even make the news anymore,” Booker said. “The carnage, the brutality, and no one seemed to even care. Why was I fighting? Why was I trying?”
He said he was told to “stay faithful,” which is advice he has carried with him throughout his career this day.
Booker went on to discuss how voter suppression is a reality and how states like North Carolina have passed laws with “precisions to disenfranchise African Americans.” He said that Black folks wait about 30 minutes longer than whites to vote in America, sometimes waiting as long as four or five hours.
“I could go on through all the things that are being done in America right now to suppress the votes of low-income, Black and Brown people,” he said. “The question isn’t ‘does voter suppression exist,’ the question is ‘what are you willing to do about it.’”
He said that although he is trying to work on legislation to correct this issue, Democrats are having trouble “getting through the Senate right now” being in the minority.
Following Booker, Fajack introduced Padilla to speak on voting in California specifically, who urged voters to send in their ballots early.
According to Padilla, every registered voter in California will be receiving a mail-in ballot this year automatically, a decision made by the state in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
He also said that return postage is prepaid, so voters don’t need to worry about stamps this election year. Voters should ensure their ballots are postmarked on or before Election Day, Padilla said.
“Our job is not done until 100% of eligible voters are registered and 100% of voters are participating by casting their ballot,” Padilla said.
For the 2020 primary, California had over nine million ballots cast, the most ever in a primary election, according to Padilla.
“Regardless of the issue that you care about, I guarantee you there’s officials, at not just at the federal but at the state level and at the local level, that matter a lot more to that issue that you’re passionate about,” he said. “If it’s climate change or college affordability, that’s a state legislature that oversees the budgets for the [California State University system] and the [University of California system] and community colleges.”
Regarding climate change, Padilla felt it to be concerning that President Donald J. Trump’s administration “undermines” scientific work focused on climate change, reducing emissions and cleaner energy sources.
“I do think there’s a ton at stake when it comes to climate and what can we do,” he said. “It’s important to register and support and to vote, but you have access [to] and can hold your representatives accountable all year long, not just on Election Day.”
Voters have the ability to track their ballots this November, Padilla said, through automatic notifications in an attempt to achieve “ultimate transparency.”
Fajack then introduced Romero, a CSULB graduate from 2015 who majored in environmental science and policy, to discuss measures on this year’s ballot and the voter initiative process.
Romero encouraged students to make use of resources like the Courage California Voter Guide and said that CLCV will be hosting a ballot party Saturday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. with music and information for students to ask questions and fill out their ballots.
Booker maintained that “this moment in American history calls for, not a title, not a position, but people with purpose, and the purpose has got to be love.”
“I’m prayerful that all the young people who are part of this organization and generously listening to my voice could rise to that level of love in our society because it desperately needs it,” he said.