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Civic Engagement, Empowerment and the Spectacular Midterm Midtacular

There you were at the polls in all your glory and sometimes your pajamas too, turning out to make democracy matter. Some of you dashed to the polls in between classes, while others traded off child care arrangements to cast your ballots. An estimated 10 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections. This is an increase of at least two million compared to 2002. The estimated youth turnout rate or percentage of young eligible voters who cast votes also jumped from 20 percent in 2002 to at least 24 percent in 2006, according to preliminary data analyzed by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a leading research organization focusing on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.

During this spectacular midterm “midtacular” election, hundreds of Mills students took their civic responsibility seriously, casting votes for a dearth of women candidates and some mind-boggling propositions. “Midtacular,” a term coined by Daily Show fake news anchor Jon Stewart and his writers, certainly captures the tone and tenor of the down to the wire, hard-fought and at times downright vitriolic campaigns.

Mills women certainly weren’t passive or dispassionate about the issues. From a vintage t-shirt emblazoned with an image of former New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) and the words Unbought and Unbossed to tables filled with informational leaflets on a series of controversial propositions, your views were evident.
Intense conversations where questions were bantered back and forth on issues ranging from the war on Iraq to the genocide in Darfur also made it clear where you stand. And where many of you stand is on your own two feet, and with alumna and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the “Conscience of Congress.”

As a result of votes cast by many of you, Congresswoman Lee was re-elected to a fourth term and 66-year-old Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is poised to become Madame Speaker of the House, possibly the second most powerful person in Washington. But we remain well aware that activism and civic engagement go far beyond the power of party politics. From internships to volunteerism to enduring struggle, civic engagement at the grass roots level is an essential and sustainable element of our democracy.

For every Mills woman who cast a ballot and for each of you who devotes hours out of your demanding schedules to volunteer at battered women’s shelters, organize for affordable housing and advocate for greater diversity on campus, your vision, votes and voices really matter. I am so confident that in your lifetime, Mills alumnae from around the world will show up at the polls or cast absentee ballots to put a Mills woman in the White House as President of the United States. And I’m just as confident that you, and future generations of Mills women, will continue to engage in the kind of everyday acts of social justice that will continue to enrich the climate of the Mills community and the world.

Daphne Muse is the director of the Women’s Leadership Institute and a social commentator.