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Arts on view
If theres a rise in student voting, as USA Today hopefully reported last fall, look no farther than Juan Martinez 03 to see why. The government major from Queens, N.Y., has been energizing Skidmore voters since his sophomore year, working to establish a campus voting district and kindling a passion for politicsand all this among a demographic cohort famously disinclined to vote.
Registering to vote is not sexy, Martinez admits with a wry smile. Its not like Free Tibet or End the death penalty. I mean, Participate in your local government? Pause. Doesnt do it.
What does do it is hard work and charisma, says political comrade and Student Government Association president Andrew Kirshenbaum 03. Juan is witty and vocal and visibleand he can really work a room.
|Juan Martinez 03 casts the first voteat 7 a.m.in the electronic voting booth he helped bring to the Skidmore campus.
Thats what Martinez and a dozen student volunteers did at last falls elections, canvassing student residence halls, staffing information tables, and proselytizing at freshman orientation sessions. In an off election year, they registered some 300 new voters. (A Skidmore News story headlined Students Pumped up to Vote quoted a student who said, Im ecstatic. Its a big election, and Ive got to do my part.)
But it was in the fall of 2001 that Martinez really made his mark, in a crucial election for the five-member Saratoga Springs City Council. He organized meet-the-candidates nights and voter registration drives to get the most impact out of the citys newest election districtSkidmore. (Students formerly belonged to a wider district with an off-campus polling place.) The new Skidmore district helped put two city Democrats in office, by a margin of less than 300 votes. Juan delivered that electionhe got the students out to vote, says Beau Breslin, a Skidmore government professor who describes Martinez as tireless and one of my all-time best students.
The Skidmore voting district made big news, especially when the city councils Republican majority, stung by the students votes, moved (unsuccessfully) to redraw the election district and move its voting booth back off campus. That attempt only added fuel to this years election fire for Martinez, whose interest in politics was first ignited by former presidential candidate Bill Bradley. He said something so good on NPR, I cut myself shaving, laughs Martinez. I checked out Bradleys Web site, signed up, and wound up as campus coordinator for his campaign.
But mostly Martinez doesnt sweat the national stuff. What he really cares about is local politics. National elections, the death penalty, gun control, bad CEOswe really cant affect them. But on the local level, we can do a lot. He routinely attends Saratogas city council meetings, keeping up with water-resource quandaries, open space projects, and development debates. I cant stand to get into something I cant win, he says, but this is something I can touch, something I can affect.
American-born and of Cuban descent, Martinez is proud of his parents and relatives who immigrated to the U.S., started from scratch, and became successful professionals. At Skidmore he himself has co-founded a student activist club called Turn Left and worked for the campus Greens, the Saratoga Democrats, the local Legal Aid Society, and the colleges Integrity Board. Last spring he was honored with a Skidmore Presidents Day Award.
And after Skidmore? Hes set on law school rather than running for office. In law, he says, you can advocate and argue, and the success or failure of your case depends on the strength of your argument. In politics, you have to use arguments that will play, and justice can be lost in the middle. But what if tempting political issues should arise say, local issues? Oh, sure, he replies earnestly. If the capacity for positive change is there, and I can make a difference, then yeah.
A friend once told him, One day Ill be at a party with you and you wont talk politics. Martinez grins. Hasnt happened yet. BAM