March 06, 2009 | Matt Decker

A bar of soap has many uses. It can be used in the shower, for removing stains from clothing and for cleaning out filthy mouths. It can also be used for sending a political statement.

A bar of soap has many uses. It can be used in the shower, for removing stains from clothing and for cleaning out filthy mouths. It can also be used for sending a political statement.

Soap and Numbers

In late February, the student organization Democracy Matters put up posters around campus announcing the Soap and Numbers event that was held in Johnny’s on Monday and Tuesday, March 2 and 3. “We want to start with Calvin students and educate them and then sign bars of soap and send them to Michigan members of Congress and ask them to clean up elections and support the Fair Elections Now Act,” said Emily Daher, president of Democracy Matters, which sponsored the event.  

The act, sponsored by senators Arlen Specter and Dick Durbin, will reduce the influence of private donations on elections.

“It would set up a voluntary system for publicly funded elections,” said Daher. She explained that should the bill pass, Congressmen would decide if they wanted to be involved in it or not. “They would have to sign up, saying that they wouldn’t take private money but only small contributions of $100 or less. Elections would use tax dollars, but no more than Americans are already spending on taxes,” said Daher, “Hopefully new politicians would be able to run who couldn’t before because they didn’t have access to the money.”

Money talks

The student organization set up a table display that included several signs and a few political cartoons. The signs stated facts such as the average cost of winning a seat in the United States Senate in 2008: 6.5 million dollars. 

“Candidates take on private donations after they are elected and they feel accountable to the corporations that gave them money—because they want to get elected for another term,” explained Melissa Lucio, the vice president of Democracy Matters. “If they don’t make these people happy they aren’t going to get that money, and as the statistics show, the more money you have the more likely you are to get re-elected,” explained Lucio, who is a sophomore nursing and international development double major. “That is not why we created the government that we have. We want to make people feel like they have a voice; let them have a voice.”

The event was met with plenty of interested students willing to sign. The fact that senators Specter and Durbin are introducing the Fair Elections Now act in April made for a good conversation starter.

Getting involved

“Politics should have the same rules that everyday life does. Life usually rewards hard work and an honest effort, and that is part of what is lacking in politics,” said junior Peter Kraker, a signer of soap, “Some of the biggest outrages we have seen in our government are caused by politicians out of touch with how the world works. They are so absorbed into their own twisted world of playing politics for money and power that they lose sight of what, and who, they represent.”

Last year Congressman Vern Ehlers (a Calvin grad) received five bars of soap from this event, containing approximately 50 signatures of concerned students. Ehlers does not currently support the Fair Elections Now Act, so he will be receiving some more soap this year.

“The campaign is to make sure the representative knows that we want him to be in support of this act,” Lucio said. “We did this event as a fledgling club on campus last year, and so people had no clue who Democracy Matters was.” The organization is non-partisan, she emphasized.

Sophomore organization

Daher first heard about Democracy Matters, a national organization, as a high school student back in Ohio. “They focus mainly on getting college students involved in politics, but one of the main focuses is campaign finance reform,” she said.

A sophomore political science major and international development minor, Daher founded the Calvin chapter of the organization. “It is really important to bring this to Calvin’s campus because we want to educate the students on the price of something such as Congressional election.”

Daher, although optimistic, realizes that getting The Fair Elections Now Act passed is only one step in the right direction:

“Publicly funded elections is a great step to help fight corruption, although I do not think it is the answer to everything. Money is a huge problem and this bill would help solve that problem,” said Daher.

In the meantime, the organization will continue working to make a name for itself and educate the student body about political issues, according to Lucio. “The event doesn’t only involve people who are in political science; it involves everybody. Any passionate cause that you have—this is going to impact that down the road.”

Peter Kraker signs soap for Fair Elections Now Act

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