“The quality of the dining hall food just doesn’t match the tuition fee I’m paying,” someone just complained to me. I nodded earnestly, and we launched into a discussion about how expensive everything is. I’m certain that I could have this exact same conversation with many students here at Penn, and in colleges across the United States. But could I have the same conversation with someone who was older, and had been out of college for a couple generations? Could I have the same conversation with someone of a higher income?
That’s what’s interesting about voting: we always implore people to vote in order to actually act on their opinions. And this, certainly, is valid. But it is dangerous to tell people to vote without consideration of others, without considering those conversations that we might not have the experience to engage in. We forget that voting is about community — and that’s what Vote that Jawn tells me.
I wasn’t able to attend the VTJ event. But when I said “vote that jawn” to one of my friends for the first time, he replied with, “The coordinator must be from Philly,” which he had immediately recognized from the word “jawn.”
You might say it’s just slang. But it’s slang that is not recognizable to most people outside Philly. The immediate light in my friend’s eyes that sparked upon hearing the word “jawn” can only be reflected amongst a community — or specifically, the Philadelphia community.
And that’s what so important: above all, Philadelphia is a community, and we have common issues to resolve. Even if you do not attend the University of Pennsylvania, it is in Philadelphia, and some residents do attend. Even if you don’t live in West Philly, it is in Philadelphia, and some residents do live there. We are a community.
I understand that as humans, we will always prioritize problems that affect us directly. But we must understand that there are also problems outside that realm. While we might not see how the success of a group that is not our own would affect us, it can. We must be willing to care about the future, even though we may not be in it.
This idea expands well beyond Philly. It’s not just slang that connects us — as a state, as a country, we have mannerisms, traditions, and culture that unite us. We must value this connection enough to value conversations that we cannot participate in, and we must value these conversations enough to allow it to impact the way we vote. Vote that Jawn implores young people not only to vote, but to vote with compassion. To vote with their community.
Our generation is supposed to be the more open to change, more open to new ideas, groups, and identities. But this only matters if it’s reflected in our politics — and this can only happen if we vote as a community. Yes, there are conversations that we may not be able to participate in. But it is our attempt to understand these conservations that matters. It is in this understanding that we can finally say that we are voting as a community, not as individuals, and this is how true civic engagement is achieved.
Hannah Yusuf is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania with a major in Biological Basis of Behavior and a minor in Creative Writing. She loves to write–and she writes to tell stories that are generally untold. She wants her stories to reflect her heritage and hopes, more than anything, that readers experience a new perspective through her writing.