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Opinion: Calling reps could make lowering tuition a possibility

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When Gov. John Kasich vetoed a budget provision that would make voting harder for out-of-state students, there was praise from Democrats across the state. The provision would have made it so anyone with an out-of-state drivers license who wished to register to vote must purchase an Ohio drivers license, which would have effectively been a poll tax.

Yet there’s more to this story. As soon as this provision was added into the budget, the College Democrats of Ohio’s (CDO) chapters across the state—including the OU chapter, of which I’m a member—mobilized all of their members to sign petitions and call representatives both for their colleges and their hometowns. Then CDO President Taylor Myers sent an email out to all chapters, saying “Our time is limited. We must act now.”

It was thanks to these efforts that Kasich decided to veto the provision. Rep. Dan Ramos from Lorain County came to speak at a meeting of the OU College Democrats last week to explain how it was these efforts that made Kasich go against his own party in the legislature. He even told us there were some members of the Statehouse who were surprised by our response to the provision.

Then, he changed subjects by giving us a fact that surprised our members: Despite having a college in his district, over the past few years his office hasn’t received one call about tuition hikes.

That’s when light bulbs went off in my head. While Oberlin College, the college in his district, may have far fewer students than OU, it’s still a shock that not one person has called regarding tuition hikes. I’m also going to guess that this is similar for most state representatives and senators. What if students across the state coordinated to call their state representatives about other progressive issues. Do we have more power over how they vote than we think we do?

For as long as I’ve been at OU, there have been protests, mostly led by the Student Union, against rises in tuition. Despite their efforts over the years, and members being arrested at numerous protests, this has not stopped the Board of Trustees from raising tuition, including most recently with a 5 percent increase for incoming freshman this fall.

So why not try a different approach? The Student Union and other progressive groups on campus have organized hundreds of people for events like the Bat Rally. Why not organize an event where all those people who are from in the state call their home representatives in the Statehouse? And there are bound to be similar organizations at other Ohio colleges and universities that will coordinate an event of this magnitude.

If hundreds, or maybe even thousands of students statewide called their representatives at the same time, this will force them to at least acknowledge problems like rising tuition, student loans, minimum wage and universities wasting unnecessary money. And if that happened, the sky’s the limit, and we can really start putting on the pressure for real progressive change.

This will involve calling Republicans though, but we have no choice in the matter. Republicans have a gerrymandered supermajority in both houses of the Ohio General Assembly. But it was calling these Republicans that made Kasich veto the the voter suppression provision. Yes, this means they will start taking credit for progressive reforms, but it’s better to see these reforms enacted under Republicans rather than to have them not even be considered.

Now despite all of this, I’m not saying students should stop protesting. Protests are needed to show that we’re united behind these causes. And they help spread awareness on places like college campuses, much like the recent Bat Rally and groups like F*ckRapeCulture. But these protests can gain even more traction and have a bigger impact if these groups call representatives as well.

In the prison film Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne got extra funding for the prison library not by complaining to the prison warden, but by sending letters every week to the state legislature. We need to be like Andy Dufresne.

I’m writing this because I want groups to be aware of all of their options and use them. If a representative gets just a handful of phone calls, emails or letters regarding a subject, they’re going to take note of it. If a couple of them are contacted over the same issue, they’ll start talking to each other about it. Imagine if every single representative and senator in the state was getting phone calls by students from their districts. This will get the entire state talking, including the most powerful people in the state government.

Let’s change the way this state operates. Call your representative!

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