IOP Registers 'Occupy' Protesters to Vote

Hoping to seize on the energy surrounding Occupy Boston, members of the Institute of Politics visited Dewey Square on Saturday as part of a voter registration effort to encourage civic participation both at Harvard and beyond.

“We thought it would be cool to go down to Occupy Boston to talk to people to see if they would be interested in getting involved in the political process,” said Amanda E. McGowan ’13, who chairs the IOP’s National Campaign program, which focuses on increasing voter registration on campus.

About 15 volunteers went to the Dewey Square camp in two shifts, one in the morning and one later in the evening.

According to McGowan, members of the IOP were surprised to find that many occupiers were not interested in voting, particularly during the IOP’s morning visit.

“Some were already registered but did not want to vote. Others were not registered and did not want to be involved in the political system,” McGowan said.

“There was a sense of disappointment with the system,” she continued.

The IOP’s interest in registering voters began a few weeks ago, when former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell—an IOP visiting fellow—inquired about the percent of occupiers who were registered to vote.

“One of the things [Rendell] said was that he could sympathize with the movement, but that he wasn’t sure it had any political goals,” McGowan said. “He said, ‘I wonder how many people there are registered to vote?’ and it made us all stop and look around.”

IOP President Jeffrey F. Solnet ’12 stressed the importance of getting youth politically involved.

“Obviously a component of what the IOP does is getting people involved in government and making social change,” Solnet said. “I think these are all things that are tied into the IOP’s mission.”

Solnet said he sees the moment as an opportunity to motivate young people to become civically engaged.

“[The Occupy movement] is historic, and it’s something that’s growing quickly around the world,” Solnet said. “For many people this is a very inspiring movement.”

Indeed, while some protesters expressed a lack of interest in becoming involved with the political process, many others were receptive to the call for affecting social change at the ballot box.

“The people there in the evenings tended to be a lot more politically involved,” McGowan said.

IOP members also organized a small Harvard contingent to attend a Sunday ‘teach-in’ in Dewey Square about creating successful social movements, led by Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Marshall L. Ganz ’64-’92.

Matthew R. Shuham ’15, a member of the IOP’s Special Events Board, expressed enthusiasm about the trip to Dewey Square.

“We are seeing this political event shaping in our own backyard,” Shuham said.

He continued, “The IOP can sometimes be a theoretical place to work and learn. When we see something like this happening, people get excited.”

—Staff writer Jose A. DelReal can be reached at jdelreal@college.harvard.edu.

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