Rock the Vote comes to South Dakota

Toby Uecker

Toby Uecker

South Dakota students will have the opportunity to “Rock the Vote” this November, as the organization of the same name sets up shop in Brookings for the two-month home stretch of the 2002 election.

Rock the Vote is a national organization whose main goals are to register 18-to-24-year-olds to vote and get members of that age group involved in politics.

The organization set up what it calls a street team in South Dakota shortly before SDSU students left school last spring.

Made up of students, community leaders and others with political inclinations, grassroots organization makes up the major portion of Rock the Vote’s efforts.

The grassroots group based in this area currently has about 40 members. On the SDSU campus, the group has the sponsorship of the SDSU Political Science Club.

At the helm of South Dakota’s street team is Emily Hauge, a SDSU sophomore who felt South Dakota’s hotly contested elections were important enough to warrant attention from the national organization.

“Politicians don’t address our needs because they haven’t heard our voice,” she said. “The vote is our voice.”

Hauge, a political science major from Aberdeen, first corresponded with Rock the Vote headquarters in Los Angeles in February. It took three months to get the first reply, the offer of a press kit about the organization.

That wasn’t enough to satisfy Hauge.

“A press kit’s great, but we need you here,” she told Rock the Vote officials.

Hauge organized other students to send the same message to L.A. The multiple letters and e-mails were enough to convince Rock the Vote that South Dakota wanted and needed its help.

Over six months after the initial correspondence, South Dakota’s Rock the Vote team is busy showing its faces and spreading its message at various festivals and gathering places throughout the state.

Over the summer, Hauge and the rest of the street team attended such events as the Sioux Falls JazzFest and the Vans Warped Tour’s stop in Fargo, ND.

“We try to get to where the 18-to-24-year-olds are,” she said.

Now that school has started, college campuses are where the members of that age group are and Hauge intends for Rock the Vote to start picking up on that.

Rock the Vote will have tables in the University Student Union as well as major kick-off and awareness events during Hobo Day festivities.

She says such campus-level events are huge for the effectiveness of the organization

“We’re going to be seen all over campus.”

The street team may even be seen all over the state and region, as they’ve been asked to visit other college campuses as well as another concert in Fargo.

“I see us working out of Brookings, Sioux Falls, Watertown, wherever they need us,” Hauge said.

Along with registering voters wherever they go, Rock the Vote volunteers are circulating a petition to be presented to national legislators advocating increased funding for sex education programs.

While the sex education measure is somewhat controversial, Hauge said the plan looks for increased support by incorporating abstinence education and age-appropriate discussion of sexual matters.

Rock the Vote is partnering once again with MTV in the petition drive and is also getting help from the Advocates for Youth organization.

But whether its voting, volunteering or simply signing a petition, Hauge said the key to her Rock the Vote efforts in this new venue is getting a group of voters often seen as apathetic into the political world around them.

“This fall, we’re just going to see (participation) balloon,” she said. “This is a great way to get students involved.”