Clarion, Pa.- It is not often that chargrilled burgers, a recording of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and a 20-foot Rosie the Riveter pop-up balloon appear together.
Free food, today’s hit songs and politics don’t seem to have anything in common. However, when APSCUF, AFL-CIO and AFSCME’s Burger and Ballots RV pulled into Clarion University, all three of these categories found their place.
On Monday Oct. 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., hundreds of CU students stopped by to check out the Burger and Ballots RV and found themselves enjoying free food and learning about the importance of voting.
State APSCUF Coordinator, Doug Brown, stated the main goal of Burger and Ballots, “is to energize students and employees to get out and vote on Nov. 4th. The event is not only a fun cookout, it is also a chance for attendees to learn about issues that impact them as students and employees at the State System of Higher Education.”
Clarion APSCUF President Beth MacDaniel, discovered that many students were receptive to the event.
She said, “Today we are giving students the chance to fill out an absentee request form. Many students did not register to vote in Clarion and cannot travel home on Nov. 4 to vote but would still like to voice their opinion.”
MacDaniel added, “Students who are not registered to vote are able to register here today as well. We also have forms here asking students why they are voting, which will tell us what students are truly worried about and what they are thinking.”
Monica Sheffo was one of the many students to fill out an absentee ballot at the Burger and Ballots event. A communication major, Sheffo said she believes that it is important to stay informed in politics and to “not just fill out a bubble sheet, but to know what you stand for.”
She added, “Voting, for me, is a form of independence, a chance for me to make a difference just by signing a piece of paper.”
Sheffo said, “The first ballot that I filled out in high school for an election, I didn’t honestly have an interest in. But now I feel the struggle of affording tuition and have seen things hit close to home. I will vote for what I stand for and for what I believe in my heart. I encourage others to do the same.”
Brown explained the Burger and Ballots RV is an new event that is geared toward state-owned universities.
Clarion was number 10 out of 14 state universities that the RV plans to visit before the Nov. 4 elections.
Brown said, “The reason we chose the state-owned universities is because this election is so important to the future of their students and employees.”
He added, “The state system has seen significant cuts in recent years, while tuition/fees continue to go up and programs get cut. We let the issues speak for themselves and let voters decide.”
He continued, “Whether it is a college Republican or Democrat or a student just newly registered to vote, I am seeing students have thoughtful conversation about issues they may not have been aware of before the event, especially when we’re talking about funding cuts and student debt.”
Information about local unions and the governors running in the upcoming event was available at the Burgers and Ballots RV, but the event remained nonpartisan.
Speakers at the event included student representatives from Clarion Young Democrats and Clarion College Republicans as well as two political science professors, Dr. Thomas Rourke
from the Social Sciences department and Dr. Kevan Yenerall, also from the Social Sciences department. All speakers maintained a nonpartisan viewpoint, focusing on the importance of voting and why students should get involved.
Not too many students are familiar with higher education unions, such as APSCUF, one of the sponsors of the event, who stand to voice the opinion of students and teachers while defending public education. Topics such as tuition, school funding and school cuts in curriculum and programing are common debate and concerns amongst union members.
MacDaniel added how “unions are coming under attack. Pennsylvania hasn’t been giving public education enough funding, as if it is not a priority. I hope that with a change in Harrisburg we can defend public education and fund our state schools.”
“We don’t want to encourage students one way or the other,” said MacDaniel, “we just wanted the students to have the chance to have their voice heard. I hope that after this event students will decide to speak their voice.”