It's clear to anyone who watched the State of the Union address last January that President Obama has begun to echo the Occupy Wall Street movement by voicing an increasingly populist agenda and taking on the inequality gap as a major theme.
"If you're earning a million dollars a year you shouldn't get special tax subsidies or deductions,” the President said. “On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98% of American families, your taxes shouldn't go up."
While Obama is now talking about “98% of American families”—coming awfully close to the OWS catchphrase of 99%--to appeal to the majority of voters in November, student occupiers aren’t convinced, believing that neither party genuinely represents the desires of occupiers. While the President is now telling the majority of Americans what they want to hear, he is still accepting donations from corrupt banks and Wall Street firms, establishing a Super-Pac despite his earlier reservations and failing to uphold campaign promises benefitting students.
These facts have left Occupy College participants with complex questions about what to do with their votes: should students stand behind third-party candidates to send a message to Democrats that they cannot assume they automatically have the youth vote? Or, is there an increasing sense of urgency to support the President and ensure that the embodiment of the one-percent, Mitt Romney, stays out of the White House come November?
Sandra Korn, a sophomore at Harvard University, spent most of the fall 2011 semester involved with Occupy Harvard protecting custodians’ and other workers’ rights. Korn’s participation in her own campus’ Occupy movement has made her think twice about voting for President Obama in 2012.
“One of the things Occupy has done quite well is question the two party system and raise issues about how it might not be viable,” said Korn. “Maybe both parties are corporate parties. Voting for Obama didn't really get us systematic change last time, why would it change now?”
“Maybe I can be more effective in making change in this country by voting for a third party candidate who can change discourse around the two party system in America,” Korn optimistically explained. “Then in another few elections we can have a viable third party who can represent the interests of voters like me.”
Democrats often assume that when it comes to the polls, the vast majority of America’s youth vote in their favor. This seems to be a fair assumption, considering it was arguably America’s youth that propelled President Obama into office almost four years ago.
Nearly two million more young people voted in the 2008 Presidential election than in 2004 and raised the total percentage of voters under the age of 30 to 51 percent, according to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
But student activists say they want to debunk the assumption that young progressives will automatically vote Democratic. Instead, they want politicians to earn their vote, and their volunteer efforts, by taking action on issues that improve student's lives.
Natalia Abrams, a primary organizer for the national Occupy College movement, thinks that Obama needs to earn back the trust of student voters in the next six months by discussing and acting on college affordability and other relevant issues to students.
“I felt taken for granted because I campaigned and knocked on doors in Nevada, and Obama didn’t do everything he said he would. America’s youth came out and hook line and sinker bought this whole ‘yes we can’ mantra,” said Abrams.
“But then I felt that same energy transferred from the Obama campaign into the Occupy movement. The youth didn't lose energy, we lost our leader. If he wants to be the leader of the youth again, he needs to earn that.”