Reds and blues were prevalent in the color spectrum in East Tennessee State University’s D.P. Culp Center Auditorium Tuesday night, as students, organizations and nine political speakers from all ideologies packed in together to talk about voting.
The “Freedom Rocks” event, which is centered around promoting voter registration and voter awareness, has been carefully planned since May and members hosting the program, including Alpha Delta Pi sorority, College Republicans, College Democrats and the Female Majority Leadership Alliance, were down on the floor welcoming participants with stickers and raffle tickets at 6:30 p.m.
At 7 p.m., the auditorium seats were being swiped up by big groups, small groups and individuals, waiting to hear from the speakers on the lineup that included such invited guests U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, his 1st Congressional District challenger Alan Woodruff, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, state Rep. Matthew Hill, state House candidate James VanHuss and state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, joined the crowd via Skype.
Erika Wild, Alpha Delta Pi’s vice president for member education and one of the organizer’s for the event, said “Freedom Rocks” has been something they’ve wanted to host at ETSU for a while. Wild said she hopes the event will encourage the younger voters to get active in the voting process.
“We want to provide this to the students ... because we feel that there is a need for information on voting and registration,” Wild said. “This is a bipartisan event. Both of the candidates, Republican and Democratic, have been invited but have been asked to speak only on voting and voting related to the college campus and students.”
Utilizing social media tools, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the coordinators of “Freedom Rocks” have been visible on campus lately, and, according to Wild, the group has already registered more than 300 students to vote in the upcoming election.
“I think if we raise awareness and excitement, then students will want to go out to the polls and want to make sure that their voice is heard,” Wild said.
Lucas Hitechew, parliamentarian for ETSU’s Student Senate, said he feels getting people to vote is important and he decided to show up Tuesday night to show his support for the movement.
“There’s a lot of excitement in the air. A lot of people showed up and I think that it’s going to be really interesting to see how things play out tonight,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about hearing from the speakers.”
When asked about his generation’s attitude toward voting, Hitechew said a lot of younger voters forget about the positive aspects of casting a vote in any election, and seem to focus more on the negative.
“I think there’s an apathy and a social stigma to politics in general,” he said. “A lot of people when they hear the word “politics,” all they think about is fighting and disagreement.”
ETSU senior Ryan Mills, who also attended Tuesday night’s event, said he views voting and being politically active as ways of stepping up and taking the torch to be the new leaders in the country, but said he continues to see a lack of political enthusiasm from his own generation.
“I think we need to become more engaged in the political process and just kind of get a better understanding of what the issues are and what we believe,” Mills said. “Most of the kids I know aren’t interested in politics. They just want to go play video games or go out and party, and while both of those are fun, I think this is very important. We have to become educated because our generation is going to be the next group of leaders and we’re going to be in charge soon. We need to take control and lead on these issues.”