At such a focused time in our lives, I find that it can be very hard to think about the bigger picture: the relationship of the individual to the community, the class to the major, the change to the overall outcome, or the small differences to the wider world. It is so easy to narrow in on the little things, the things that may be tangible in the moment or the immediate effects on our persons. But how much does that really matter? Do the day-to-day things matter more than the overarching, umbrella goals, outcomes, and accomplishments? How do we go about our days, our weeks, even our years without constantly trying to balance out the short-term and the long-term efforts and achievements?
Take voting as a concrete example: how much does checking off a little box matter to the larger community? People say in the presidential election that one vote is not enough to sway the results, especially in our country, where voting is not mandatory. So where does the power of the individual factor into the larger picture?
Part of the answer to that question involves both focusing in on the surroundings and individuals around you, as well as thinking about the community as a whole. It’s hard to grasp the importance of voting at the global level, especially in the case of the presidential election, so focus local. Why does this mayoral election matter to us? Especially as college students, where our residency is so short compared to the permanent community members, why should our votes matter over those that live here year-round and have actually been able to see a visible change in the community?
When I posed this question to mayoral candidate and Bates alum Ben Chin, he answered, “I always think of the Good Samaritan story.” An injured man is lying out on the street and while the people in his close community walk by him expressing concern without moving to help, an individual, who is nothing like the injured man — nor does he know him — stops and helps him up. Why would he do that if there seems to be no individual gain? The answer is that he’s a Good Samaritan. He cares about the people around him, regardless of familiarity.
In our case, as Bates students who cycle through the Lewiston community in four short years, it is very hard to envision the role we have here. But as Ben Chin said, “Ask who your neighbor is,” and “Who are the people you see every day?” We joke about the “Bates Bubble” as a way to justify our lack of experience in the “real world” or a reason for limiting ourselves purely to campus activities, but when we think about the Bates campus, in reality, it is very open. There are no closed gates or fences, and community members can use the facilities at their leisure. Many Bates students are heavily invested in working with the local schools, with Tree Street, at the Trinity Jubilee Soup Kitchen, at Blake Street Towers, etc. So for those of us who ask why would we vote local if we’re only here for four years, one could ask a similar question about the reasons for doing these incredible community engagement activities. Why should we get ourselves involved with places like Tree Street if our four years here will barely make a difference?
Bates students need to realize that we can make a difference, and that we have every right to influence and participate in making a difference. Lewiston is our home for four years, regardless of the legality of the term residency. When we label ourselves proudly as “Batesies” or “Bobcats” or just simply “Bates Students,” we are creating a connection with both the college and the community, as well. But more importantly, as part of this community, we have the power to change and to help push it in a direction that can benefit all.
Ben Chin told us a story of a schizophrenic man he knew named Mel who died in an apartment covered in mold, with watermarks on the walls and with no one to contact. Mel’s body was discovered a few days after his death because no one went in to check on that apartment —not the landlord, not any medical services. No one. Besides the horrific and illegal living situation that Mel faced, the lack of connection he had with the people in this community is heartbreaking.
Although a Bates vote may not necessarily help specific circumstances in a situation like this, we can help to improve the conditions of things like the apartment. Our vote is important in changing the lives of people like Mel. So forget about how important you may be in the wider community and instead think about how your vote can contribute to the heavily needed changes to improve conditions including housing, minimum wage, welfare, and the livelihoods of the people of Lewiston.