A Vision For V.O.I.C.E.

This past Saturday, I volunteered with the organization Voters In Action. It is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to helping people in Lawrence register for the upcoming Presidential Election on November 2. VIA is actually a smaller part of Lawrence Community Works, which tries to help better the lives of people in Lawrence. LCW is currently working on creating new affordable housing for low-income families. They are also trying to clean up contaminated parts of the city and convert them into recreational parks. LCW hosts classes in English, sewing, and computer use. They sponsor a program to help high school students apply for college. The effort put forth by this organization, LCW, was amazing to witness. We got to work calling people in Lawrence, reminding them to vote in the upcoming presidential election. With a list 60 people long, I eagerly expected to register lots of new voters. As I went through the list, I found that many had phone lines that were disconnected. “I’m sorry! The number you dialed is no longer in service.” I was inundated with this phrase so many times that I learned the exact wording. When I finally was able to get through to someone, I found that many were not American citizens. In fact, a few immediately became hostile and defensive when asked if they were U.S. citizens or not. It was apparent that they had little or no faith in democracy and may have been worried that the government was monitoring them. However, when I stumbled onto an actual American citizen, many would tell me they had little or no interest in voting in the election. I was amazed by this indifference, but the reason for it quickly became evident. These apathetic individuals did not feel that anyone was going to help them, so why should they vote in an election that has no meaning for them? Anyway, at the end of the day, when I looked at the list, I was proud of my efforts, but somewhat disappointed with the results. I had gotten a few people to register for the election, and several confirmed that they were already registered. Still, the overwhelming majority either could not pay for phone service or were not US citizens. I was also surprised by the fact that there were quite a few people who did not speak English. When I read in the advertisements that some Spanish was necessary, I had not expected to use that much of it. However, that was neither the first nor the last of my false preconceptions. If at all possible, the student body here at PA should try to spend more time volunteering in Lawrence. We need to make people there understand that, whether they vote for Bush or Kerry, these elections will make a difference in their lives. In addition, we should expand programs that help teach English to immigrants in Lawrence and help immigrants better prepare for the citizenship tests. Project V.O.I.C.E., the only already established project in Lawrence, meets only on Wednesdays during sports and on one busy evening per week. If it were expanded to the weekend, more students might be able to go and help since they would have fewer school-related conflicts. With a few minor adjustments, we could help immigrants assimilate more readily into American life. As U.S. citizens, these immigrants would be much more willing to seek help from the federal, state, or local governments in finding a job or a home for their families. Imagine Andover students, with increased participation, helping the fight against poverty in Lawrence. That is my vision, in the spirit of non sibi, for a better, stronger Andover.