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VALLEY FOCUS | Woodland Hills

Voter Rally at Pierce Draws Few Students

October 09, 1998|SUE FOX

The lawn was blanketed with hundreds of chairs, the podium fortified with loudspeakers. But at a Thursday rally to spark voter turnout among Pierce College students, only a few dozen showed up.

Forsaking the microphone to stand near the small clump of students, Pierce President E. Bing Inocencio recalled a bumper sticker he'd seen that read: "I don't care about apathy."

"We're seeing a portrait of apathy behind us, looking at nothing but empty seats," said Inocencio, a native of the Philippines who became a U.S. citizen in 1979. "I haven't missed a single election since I became a citizen. So many people in the rest of the world fight so hard to get this right . . . and here they have it and they don't use it."

Heather Putnam, a Pierce student and president of the college's Associated Students Organization, said she organized the VoteFest '98 rally with that grim reality in mind. With less than a month to go before the Nov. 3 election, Putnam wanted to light a fire under the sneakered feet of her classmates in hopes of getting them to the polls.

"How can I get you motivated?" she asked the students, many of whom attended because their political science class offered them bonus points for writing a summary of the event. No answers were immediately apparent, but as local politicians began speaking, a few more students joined the audience.

City Councilwoman Laura Chick, who represents the area, said that often the people who are angriest about the government do not vote. "The decisions being made for you and about you are being made by a smaller and smaller number of people," she said.

Some of the students asked questions about child care and public education. Several said later that they wished the speakers had talked more about specific issues rather than the general importance of voting. "I know what I'm supposed to do," said Tabitha Palmquist, 19. "I need to know what I'm voting about."

At least one speaker was undaunted by the light turnout. Surveying the audience of about 40 people, Councilman Richard Alarcon reminded the students that he won a Democratic state Senate primary in June by a mere 29 votes.

"If there's 29 people here," he said, "I'm here."

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