On Sept. 29, the UAH registered student organization Students for Organizing, Advocating, and Reflecting hosted a screening of 2020’s first presidential debate on the lawn outside Charger Union.
The event was designed to be as safe and socially distant as possible. Students were encouraged to bring blankets and snacks — in addition to the snacks provided by SOAR — and to use the open space available to remain six feet apart from other groups. SOAR members also repeatedly instructed attending students to continue to wear their masks when not eating or drinking. Charger Times reporters at the event didn’t notice any failure to comply with these instructions on the part of any students in attendance.
According to the Coordinator for Civic Engagement and Leadership William Hargrove, who helped plan the event, the goal was to reach out to more students and to have UAH classified as a Voter Friendly Camus through NASPA and the Campus Vote Project. According to Hargrove, about 80 students attended the event. SOAR representatives reminded the audience to vote and handed out flyers with information about voter registration and vote-by-mail.
As college-age voters are a substantial demographic, projects such as Voter Friendly Campus and SOAR strive for greater civic engagement and education while being strictly non-partisan. “SOAR has big plans for civic engagement programming moving into next semester and onward,” Hargrove says. “The civic engagement programming has really taken off over the last year with the creation of book clubs, individual programming, and service opportunities; however, SOAR plans to create an environment on campus that finds a place for every student to plug into civic engagement in some way.”
Charger Times reporters noted a substantial turnout for supporters of both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Members of the audience regularly cheered both candidates and laughed at certain noteworthy moments, but there didn’t seem to be much tension among the fortunately socially distant groups.
SOAR has previously hosted events such as talks on protesting, Netflix parties for relevant documentaries, and a recent town hall with Alabama Senator Doug Jones. According to Hargrove, there will be other events scheduled to boost voter engagement; notably, on election day there will be what Hargrove describes as a socially distant tailgate or a “Trail of Treats” between UAH and Trinity Presbyterian Church, the local polling location. There had been a plan to also screen the second presidential debate on the lawn, but the debate itself has been cancelled.
Hargrove has expressed his hope that events such as these will increase voter participation. “Voter education is one of three foundational components of SOAR’s Voter Friendly Campus Plan,” he explains. “The other pieces are voter registration and voter turnout. Through our voter registration efforts this semester in collaboration with entities across campus we have registered 261 voters.”
Update: This article originally mistakenly called SOAR an SGA-affiliated organization; it is in fact student-run and independent from SGA.