On September 9th, Viewpoint Votes hosted their first live event. Taking place on Zoom, the webinar included an introduction to the initiative, a discussion about norms surrounding voting, and a special message from Senator Ted Cruz. The latter has since caused controversy and led to many debates on whether or not Viewpoint’s decision to include the senator was appropriate.
Created this year in response to the upcoming presidential election, Viewpoint Votes is a non-partisan group led by students and teachers to encourage civic engagement in the Viewpoint community.
“This isn’t the only goal of the initiative,” says Ben Reznick (’21), member of Viewpoint Votes, “we’re also trying to educate Viewpoint students and parents about the history of voting, the electoral process, how to go about political conversations in a respectful way, and just overall politics and election information.”
When planning their events, the group decided to include messages from political leaders across the ideological spectrum centered around the theme of the importance of voting. “We really wanted to show how non-partisan this initiative was so somebody on our team reached out to Ted Cruz’s office and asked if he would record a video,” says Reznick (’21).
Senator Cruz’s office was one of the first to respond to the request, resulting in his placement as the first speaker in the event series, and sent the group a video of the senator emphasizing how important it is to vote and how sacred an individual’s vote is.
“This was a completely non-partisan video and we did not give him any platform to espouse his views that are somewhat controversial,” says Reznick (’21).
Other students, like Tai Flemming (’21), co-president of Black Student Union and member of the Gender Sexuality Alliance, disagree with the group’s decision: “I feel that there are plenty of non-partisan people that could have been brought in to represent Viewpoint. Not saying that they didn’t try, but just saying that more action could have been taken and I feel that although Mr. Cruz was brought in to be non-partisan, his beliefs and his actions aren’t just wiped away — with the non-partisan title.”
She adds that including the senator at the event, “hurt and — felt like they (Viewpoint) didn’t really care about certain students and how they would be affected by this.”
Senator Cruz is outspoken in his stances against same-sex marriage and reproductive rights for women. Following the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges to extend constitutional marriage rights to same-sex couples, Senator Cruz encouraged states to ignore the ruling. In a recent tweet, the Senator spoke of his plan to ban an abortion pill and claimed that pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness. In August, Senator Cruz also labeled Black Lives Matter protestors as “violent anarchists and Marxists.”
“I understand that — there are many people that feel that Viewpoint should not have included a pre-recorded video of Cruz. However, this really is a non-partisan initiative and we feel that it’s important regardless of people’s politics to get people out to vote and that is exactly what Ted Cruz said,” says Reznick (’21).
Moving forward, Flemming (’21) hopes for the group to, “take into account who they are bringing on to represent our school and consider how that person’s past, current beliefs and actions affect the student body as a whole and the Viewpoint reputation as a whole.”
Reznick (’21) has stated that Viewpoint Votes plans to host presentations about the history of voting, the significance of local elections in conversation with City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, a mock election, a voter registration drive, and an information session on this year’s presidential candidates.