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Let's Talk Human Rights

Five Lessons Learned from the 2020 Election Speaker Series

By Kyle Brun '22

The 2020 general election has been heralded by Democrats and Republicans alike to be the most consequential political decision that the United States has faced in generations. COVID-19 continues to negatively impact our communities at home and on campus. We have just witnessed one of the largest racial justice movements in history as our nation grapples with systems that devalue and discriminate against Black and Brown communities. For many college students, including myself, this is the first time we are voting in a presidential election. As we prepare to make such an impactful decision, it is crucial to be as informed and prepared as possible.

The Human Rights Center partnered with the School of Law to put on a multi-week election webinar series, addressing various issues that we face as an electorate. Guest speakers ranged from United States Senators to current students, and even Democratic presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. Having such a breadth of political and legal experience accessible to the University and Dayton communities was an incredible opportunity, and taught me a lot about the state of our democracy. Here are five main takeaways from our sessions:

1. Election officials in the State of Ohio and across the country are working diligently to ensure that this election can run as smoothly and fairly as possible.

The series began with remarks from Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, who discussed the multitude of options available to voters in how they can cast their ballot while feeling safe. In Ohio, you have the opportunity to vote by mail, vote early in-person at the county board of elections or vote at your designated polling location on November 3. Because Ohio has used these ways to vote historically, the state is well prepared for managing the impact of Covid-19 on the elections, which has meant higher demand for mail-in/absentee voting.  In addition to voting, the Secretary of State encouraged young people to get civically engaged in the process by volunteering, for example, as a poll worker or observer. 

2. Civility isn’t as removed as it may appear.

In the United Kingdom, the phrase “the loyal opposition” references the opposing party members from the majority party. This moniker grants opposition party members respect and recognizes that despite policy differences, each party is acting in a manner believed to benefit their constituents. The series featured community and political leaders who held vastly different views than their counterparts. Oftentimes, these speakers would deliberate on the same issue, sharing opposing views. However, discussions were made free of ad hominem attacks, cheap shots and many of the other unpleasantries we have grown accustomed to when engaged in difficult conversations. In other words, the speakers embodied the principle behind “the loyal opposition.” The leaders and advocates who spoke in the election series exemplified the good within their communities and depict the level of civility needed to reach across the partisan divide

3. Good leaders share the unique ability to lift others up. 

Kentucky Representative Charles Booker described the ability to lift others up as “leading with love.” By leading with love, we have the power to turn ideas into calls to action, calls to action into movements, and movements into lasting change. As we enter the polls as voters, it is crucial to consider how each of the candidates is using his or her platform to uplift constituents and inspire the next generation of leaders through their actions. 

4. “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

This quote made famous by Dayton native Martin Sheen in his portrayal of President Jed Bartlett in The West Wing may seem obvious, but rings most true in our democratic process. If you want one major takeaway that transcends partisan politics and the rhetoric of any specific side: Vote. Every panelist throughout the series, regardless of political ideology, shared the message that our democracy works best when everybody participates in it. Ohio House Minority leader Emilia Strong Sykes stated that “the vote is the most powerful non-violent change agent you have in a democratic society.” It is once again our time to decide the direction we want this nation to take. 

5. College-aged students are destined to be a part of a generation of great importance.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg stated that, “the things you’re a part of, whether that is voting, your professional choices, through your advocacy and activism, all of it is going to add up to some decisions that historians will study.” In his discussion with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, he explored some of the pressing issues that we, as college students, are facing now that will impact the world we live in for the rest of our lives. Buttigieg concluded his session by saying that he was excited to see what college-aged students were going to offer the nation in the coming years. I can see it in my classmates, teammates, and yes myself. The enthusiasm to contribute to the common good and to make lasting change through our actions is immeasurable. 

The efforts to address and recognize issues facing our nation this election year exemplify the level of passion and care needed to maintain our democracy. Our next generation of leaders must learn from the triumphs and failures of those that have come before us. Our future leaders must expand on systems of voting to allow the enfranchisement of more Americans to realize the full power behind our democracy. Most importantly, we must once again heed the advice of President John F. Kennedy. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Here is how you can find out more or get involved:

Kyle Brun (He/Him) is a junior communication (public relations) major with a political science minor at the University of Dayton. Kyle works on the marketing and communications team of the Human Rights Center, serves as a neighborhood fellow for Housing and Residence Life, acts as this year’s vice president of external relations for the Red Scare Student Program, and serves as the captain for the men’s club ultimate team. Brun hopes to explore career opportunities in politics and non-profit administration and aspires to eventually complete a master’s degree in public administration.

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