Last week, Wisconsin held its primary elections, the first major election since the nation shut down due to coronavirus. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Wisconsin Democrats pushed for extended absentee ballot deadlines and even a postponement of the election entirely, motions that were blocked by Republicans. The end result meant Wisconsin voters turned out to brave long lines and large crowds — despite the danger of potential infection — all to exercise their civic rights.
Because this is our reality. Because despite everything, life continues to go on. And it is an election year. In the coming months, we will be voting in primaries. In local and state elections. We will be voting on ballot initiatives and we will be voting for a president.
Here in Montana, Gov. Bullock has issued a directive that allows all registered Montana voters the ability to vote by mail-in ballots for the June primary, another measure put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus in Montana. At UM, our upcoming ASUM elections will be taking place on the University of Montana app, available for anyone with a smartphone.
And the truth is, we’re all overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by cramming six weeks of classes into four weeks, overwhelmed by fear of not being able to pay next month’s rent, overwhelmed by the sadness of friends and loved ones becoming infected with a sometimes-deadly virus, overwhelmed with the new reality that we can be sure of nothing.
Lately, the news is overwhelming too, and at times, hard to dedicate time to. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or next month or even next year. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s almost impossible to imagine turning out to the polling booths on Nov. 9 or giving a second thought to the ASUM elections.
But especially in these scary, troubling times, we need leaders. There are people who, like us, want our world to be put back together into one piece. That’s why it’s so important, now more than ever, that we are paying attention.
Pay attention to the news that UM passed over a highly qualified female candidate with institutional knowledge for another old white dude as humanities and sciences dean. Pay attention to the 63 staff UM just furloughed — but it’s OK, Seth is donating some of his $326,524 salary back to UM to make up for it. Pay attention to what the next ASUM president and vice president say they’re going to do for us, the students.
Pay attention to the upcoming presidential election that could determine our country’s recovery from a complete economic and social shutdown.
At a point in our nation’s history where anything can change at a moment’s notice, we need to be able to understand what our leaders are doing for us, or what they are leaving out. We need to pay attention.