Opinion: Volunteer or die

Matt Yurkanin

Matt Yurkanin

By Adam Zmick

Editor’s note: Adam Zmick volunteers for Dr. David Gill’s congressional campaign.

Half of all U.S. citizens shirk their duty to vote, so it is up to the rest of us – those who care enough about our democracy to keep an eye on it – to do more than just vote. We need to become actively involved with the decisions that affect our lives. Democracy is not a spectator sport.

During the primary season, I volunteered for Dennis Kucinich’s presidential campaign. To me, he was a Ralph Nader working from within the Democratic Party, and I thought that’s what we needed. Kucinich, however, did not win the nomination; John Kerry did.

While I’ve never been the biggest Kerry fan in the world, reversing the damage done by George W. Bush had to be priority number one. I thought about volunteering for the Kerry campaign, but Illinois was going to be a blue state whether I helped or not. I also looked at the U.S. Senate race, where Barack Obama was already whooping on Alan Keyes like he stole something. My time would be useless there as well.

Third in line of importance was the race for U.S. House of Representatives, where I found a candidate I could really believe in.

Although I preferred Kucinich over Howard Dean, David Gill is more like Dean than Dennis. Like Dean, Gill is a doctor, and he has a common-sense plan to bring health care to those who are currently priced out of the system. Nearly 90 percent of his campaign funds have come from individual contributions, which average less than $100 apiece. Also, unlike Dennis, Gill has a decent chance of winning.

When I first started volunteering, I thought I was simply choosing the candidate who was asking why we invaded Iraq without an exit strategy over the guy who handed Dubya a blank check.

Both Gill and his opponent, Rep. Timothy Johnson, agree there are serious problems with the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind and the recent prescription-drug bill. I was willing to sacrifice a few hours of loafing around on my couch to help elect the guy who didn’t vote for those bills in the first place.

Thousands of others from across east-central Illinois made the same decision. They donated their time and their money in the hopes of changing our representation in Washington. According to a poll taken by Gill volunteers, that time and money just might pay off. Johnson still is ahead, but a good break among undecided voters would put Gill on top.

You might wonder how Dr. Gill has a chance in a district that was specifically gerrymandered to tilt in favor of Republicans. It’s because Gill’s strengths are supplemented by Johnson’s flaws.

Johnson voted to ban same-sex marriage, appealing to the sanctity-of-marriage vote (aka homophobes). That same vote lost most of the “I-don’t-like-hypocrites” vote, because Johnson already has entered into that sanctity three times, divorcing himself out of it every time.

During their debate on WILL-TV, a caller asked Johnson a series of “character questions” about drug and alcohol abuse, paternity suits and lodging a paper clip in a congressional voting machine so that Johnson didn’t have to be physically there to vote. Johnson denied the first two allegations. Now, I’m probably too biased to state what I thought of Johnson’s denial, so I suggest that voters watch the debate online (www.will.uiuc.edu/election2004/) and judge for themselves.

I prefer to vote for a candidate I like the most, rather than against the candidate I most dislike. Because I’ll get to do both on Tuesday, I’m also donating my time in the hopes that other voters will see things the same way. I’d have no right to kvetch about what’s wrong with the system if I didn’t do my part to change it.

Adam Zmick is a senior in engineering. His column runs Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]