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At Harvard, the most meaningful government decisions affecting our daily lives happen not in Washington, D.C., but just down the block.
If you’ve complained about potholes, enjoyed block parties, or ridden on new protected bike lanes, you’ve interacted in some way with Cambridge’s local government. The work that occurs at Cambridge City Hall affects all of us.
Yet, on the whole, few people on campus pay any attention. For instance, statistically speaking, if you’re reading this and live in the Quad, the odds that someone in your ward voted in the most recent municipal elections are about 3/10. If you live in River Central or River West, those odds are closer to 1/10.
This year, that must change.
Cambridge’s upcoming election is an intensely contested one, different from what we usually expect from local races. On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Harvard students have the chance to impact the allocation of an operating and capital budget that totals more than $1 billion — money that Harvard students benefit from in the form of the infrastructure we use every day.
If you care about mobility justice in Cambridge, holding police accountable for their impact on the community, or the prospect of having somewhere affordable to live during graduate school, then this Tuesday must matter.
Both on and off campus, many of us hold the misguided belief that 2023 is “an off-cycle year” because there won’t be regular federal elections. This view translates into some organizers believing they should spend their time “building relationships and getting everyone ready for 2024.”
That approach ignores the critical importance of local elections.
The media and pundits may focus on federal elections, but our votes in those races have little impact. Most Americans live in Congressional districts that are not competitive. Only a small proportion live in one of eight states with competitive 2024 Senate elections or one of seven likely to be competitive in the 2024 presidential election.
Plus, despite the constant attention American society pays to national politics, the reality is that most of us interact with the federal government infrequently. Lawmakers in Washington govern 335 million people, while those in Cambridge govern a far smaller population — and have a more direct impact on our lives.
Despite this impact, local elections consistently have weak turnout. On average, just 27 percent of eligible voters participate in municipal elections. In Cambridge in 2021, a mere 33 percent of voters cast their ballots to impact city policies.
New and returning city councilors will decide the fate of protected bike lanes, affordable housing, environmental justice, police reform, and more. Every registered voter at Harvard should help ensure the proper governance of this incredible city we call home.
Although individual students are relatively transient, as a voting bloc, they comprise around 29 percent of the city’s population. Nonetheless, younger voters participate in local elections at far lower rates than older voters – perhaps because they pay less attention to these races.
Yet, a mere 185 votes decided the most recent Cambridge City Council election. We have significantly more power to redefine our city’s future than many believe.
Massachusetts confers college students with the right to vote in the place where we receive our higher education. In many states, like neighboring New Hampshire, conservative governments have enacted laws to restrict students’ right to vote precisely because of the fear that we will recognize our power and use it. Perhaps we might even disrupt the status quo, shifting power toward candidates who promote policies more oriented toward the needs of young people — a group pretty clearly underrepresented in government.
This Tuesday, students registered to vote have the unique opportunity to help set our city’s priorities, impact the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars, and improve the lives of tens of thousands of residents. Let’s not waste this opportunity. This Tuesday, go vote.
Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House. Eamon C. OCearuil ’25 is an Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator in Lowell House.
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