“Are you on fire?” Alicia Keys sang to Richland students in a reference to her popular song as the crowd of nearly a thousand went wild. Keys, a 15-time Grammy Award winner, was joined by activist and Emmy-winner, America Ferrera as well as YouTube sensation, Liza Koshy.
The trio came to Richland on Oct. 23 with the group Voto Latino to encourage students to vote. It was Student Government Association’s (SGA) final pre-election event: “RLC Votes with America.”
Ferrera opened the rally by acknowledging the importance of the midterm elections.
“Alicia, Liza and myself are up here at Richland talking to you all because we know and believe in our hearts that there’s nothing more important going on in our country right now than you all on this campus.”
Knowing that elections can impact many lives, Ferrera reminded the students that the outcome is in their hands. She explained that this is an opportunity to decide who the elected officials will be.
“Texas matters. Texas is a model for the entire country. What you all decide to do in the next 13 days will affect every single American,” Ferrera said.
Amidst one of many ovations, Keys asked how many students were first-time voters.
“We need you. We need you so badly because everything that has happened before has not been good enough for us. And we don’t have to tolerate the things that we don’t want to go on in our democracy,” Keys said. “I want Texas to have the largest black and brown turnout to vote and the largest young people turning out to stand up.”
Keys said there was no place she would rather be than with the students.
Koshy, a Texas native, empathized with students.
“There are no dumb questions. You need to go online and educate yourself. You need to go use Google. I see y’all using Twitter. I see you all tweeting. I want you to use the same voice and I want you to early vote today,” Koshy said.
Round table talk
Following the rally, the visiting celebrities took part in a roundtable discussion with Richland student club leaders in the Chronicle TV studio. Each of the women reiterated the importance of voting.
The women collectively reminded the student body that their votes make a difference.
“One reason that you know that your vote matters and your voice matters so much is because they are literally trying to stop us from voting,” Keys said.
Although there has been a renewed interest in getting young people out to vote in the midterm elections, Ferrera believes there are people who still think their vote doesn’t matter.
“We have been taught to feel like our lives are somehow this thing completely outside of what politics is. Our lives are impacted by every single decision that our elected officials are making,” Ferrera said.
Ferrera was adamant about the power of voting and the impact millennials have in this election.
“Elections are job reviews. We employ elected officials and it’s time for us to review their jobs. What we need to understand is that, that confusion is by design because the more we stay home, the more people in power stay in power,” Ferrera said.
Koshy emphasized that status and popularity can be a small part of it. “No matter how big or how small your platform may be, voting is a lot easier than marching. You don’t have to yell and scream to have it heard. You just need to take it [vote] on a ballot,” Koshy said.
Ferrera encouraged students to engage in some sort of campaign.
“This is something you don’t have to be American to do. You can knock on doors and say, ‘I can’t vote, so vote for me,’” she said.
The SGA worked diligently to organize several voter awareness events to get students excited about voting. They combined efforts with Volunteer Deputy Registrars and registered more than 1,000 new voters before the Oct. 9 deadline.
Kelly Sonnanstine, SGA adviser, said the idea for the voter awareness events came after Haya Qazi, president of the SGA, was able to go observe the voting process. Qazi had never witnessed anyone voting until she accompanied Sonnanstine to the polls. After seeing how easy voting was, Qazi wanted to find a way to promote millennial participation in the election.
“She wanted to do something that was getting people registered to vote and teaching people how easy it is to vote,” Sonnanstine said.
Sonnanstine believes this event will have a lifelong effect on the students.
“I think it’s really important for young people to see young people saying, ‘This is important you need to do this’ because I think it makes a bigger impact,” she said.
“There is power in all votes. Let no one take your power away,” Keys said.
Election Day is today, Nov. 6. The polls are open until 7 p.m. Registered voters must vote from their precinct in Dallas County today. That information is available online at www.dallascountyvotes.org/voter-information/precinct-lookup/#Search
The full video of the roundtable with Alicia Keys, America Ferrera, Liza Koshy and Richland student leaders is available at www.richlandstudentmedia.com/video