At a rally held on Sept. 10 by the organization St. Olaf Votes No, speakers and students affirmed their belief that Oles can change the course of politics in Minnesota.
St. Olaf Votes No is a student-led division of the organization Minnesotans United for All Families MN United. MN United focuses on opposing the proposed amendment to Article XIII in the Minnesota State Constitution, generally referred to as the “marriage amendment,” which states that Minnesota recognizes only a union between a man and a woman as marriage. Polls show that support for the amendment holds the majority, so throughout the past year and a half, MN United has campaigned against the amendment by sponsoring phone banks and canvassing around the state.
At one of these phone banks in Northfield, a group of St. Olaf students met over the summer and decided to bring MN United’s campaign onto campus in the form of St. Olaf Votes No. Upon forming the organization, the members knew that they wanted to hold a rally to raise awareness.
“We knew that we wanted to get our presence known as soon and as loudly as possible,” said Kelsey Gorman ’13, a member of the organization.
At 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10, the rally began outside of Buntrock Commons as the The Glorious Misfortune played a set of songs, followed by a series of four speakers who presented their reasons for participating in the campaign and encouraged students to become involved.
First to speak was Marie Frederickson, St. Olaf communications assistant, who relayed the story of how her son came out in high school. Frederickson believes that every Minnesota citizen would be affected by the amendment as it would harm someone that he or she loves.
Next spoke Katie Barnes ’13, another member of the St. Olaf Votes No committee. Barnes relayed her story of coming out in a small town, which was not easy for her. She pointed out how glad she was to live in a more accepting community like St. Olaf, but declared that the very idea of the marriage amendment makes her feel unwelcome as a citizen. She does not believe that St. Olaf students should want a system that makes students feel like they are second-class citizens.
After Barnes, Gorman told the audience about her experiences in a MN United phone bank over the summer. At first, she had been nervous to step up and make calls to people who may not want to hear her message, but she faced her fear, and now claims that the experience of changing minds and making a difference was worth it.
Finally, Siobhan Brewer, youth organizing director for MN United, spoke to students about the importance of their generation in the vote against the marriage amendment. Brewer claimed that the involvement of youth, especially college students, could change the direction of the vote, and that their participation mattered if they wanted to see change.
“I want you all to commit to sharing conversations and to commit to changing minds,” Brewer told those attending the rally.
After Brewer’s speech, students could sign up for phone banks and ask representatives of St. Olaf Votes No for more information about the organization while The Glorious Misfortune played another set of songs.
Members of St. Olaf Votes No and attendees reacted positively to the event.
“I would’ve loved to see a thousand people there,” Springer said, “but the people that were there were very enthusiastic, and that’s what we need to change the tide of this election.”
Attendees also hailed the speech as an effective way of connecting with the students and inspiring them toward action.
“These speeches gave a lot of emotion to the campaign,” Gorman said, reflecting upon her speech. “We’re not a bunch of people in suits, we’re people who care with stories that show why we care. It turns what could be a dry campaign into an emotionally-driven experience.”
“By the end, there were a lot of people there,” said Derek Waller ’14, leader of the St. Olaf Votes No committee. “It exceeded my expectations and the number of sign-ups for volunteers exceeded our goals.”
Both the attendance and the amount of sign-ups came as a pleasant surprise to the members of St. Olaf Votes No.
“It comes down to commitment, and it depends on how much students want to change the history of Minnesota,” Waller said. “I think that the number of people there last evening and the number of volunteers that showed up demonstrated that students are ready for this kind of commitment, and that they want to make a difference.”
Likewise, students that attended the rally were inspired by the speakers to believe that they could make a difference in the world outside of the Hill.
“Brewer talked about the significance of youth in this vote,” Springer said. “I really believe that the youth are the ones changing the tone of the debate on this issue.”
The success of the rally has propelled St. Olaf Votes No to set the group’s goals high and try to bring the kind of social change they believe in. However, in doing this, they don’t intend to be divisive, and they believe that there are few places better than St. Olaf to have this kind of conversation.
“The energy and engagement in the conversation on the marriage amendment is huge, and it’s especially amazing that we’re having it without trouble,” Barnes said. “We’re not trying to yell at others and be antagonistic. Our campus community is stronger for discussing issues like these.”