Beyond the Ballot highlights actions that the Princeton University community is taking to address issues they care about, as well as ways people are becoming more informed on these issues. We recently spoke with Ana Blanco, a sophomore potentially concentrating in School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), who is involved with Princeton College Democrats and is working to re-establish Princeton Students Against Gun Violence, as well as being a Vote100 Fellow and a member of the political engagement cohort on the Pace Council for Civic Values.
Ana Blanco spent a lot of the summer working with Vote100 to increase student engagement and voter registration prior to the presidential election, but during the school year she is also focused on re-establishing the student group Princeton Students Against Gun Violence (PSAGV). Her interest in political engagement stemmed mostly from one issue, that of gun violence, and then branched out into a broader interest in combating apathy.
“I don’t think there are many people who can be like, ‘Oh, I was interested in politics since I was a year old’ or something,” she says. “It’s something that develops with time. I was in elementary school when the Sandy Hook shooting happened. Then the Parkland shooting happened not far from where I lived and became a stronger call to action, so I did things like helping my school organize a memorial service, writing to senators and congresspeople, researching and helping implement a module on the health effect of gun violence in my high school health program.”
She took this call to action and turned into actionable change, not only working hard in high school on things like the aforementioned gun violence unit in her health program and phoning congressional representatives, but then at Princeton she is working to re-establish PSAGV after a period of inactivity. Reviving PSAGV and her membership with Princeton Democrats kept Blanco engaged herself, but then working with Vote100 allowed her to really work on engaging with others. Working against voter apathy, Blanco emphasizes that she wanted to turn voting into more of a group culture, so it can be the norm instead of the exception. She has made efforts outside of Princeton organizations to work toward this, visiting her alma mater high school to talk to students about civic engagement beyond just voting.
“I feel like we’ve made it more acceptable to talk about registration and voting and normalize asking your friends and helping them make a plan to vote," she said. "I personally helped organize a couple panels with local Princeton politicians, to connect students with the community around the University not just the University itself.” According to Blanco, being completely online actually also made it somewhat easier to organize; she was able to reach out to many more people more quickly, and busy politicians or even celebrities were more likely to volunteer their time towards the efforts. The widespread messaging and continual outreach, Ana feels, really helped ramp up student and youth engagement before the November 3rd election.
But the work is far from over, she says. “Especially with my gun violence advocacy, the work continues,” she said. “We are currently trying to join a March for our Lives chapter and we have to reckon with gun violence as an everyday reality and advocate for policy change constantly. When it comes to Vote100, the work doesn’t stop. A lot of local elections aren’t on the same date as ‘the big one’ and those are important as well.”
The work is vital, and nonstop, Blanco says, and political engagement is a continual journey rather than a straightforward point A-to-B mission. She looks forward to continuing the journey though, and inviting others to share in it.
“I don’t think there’s a single thing anyone can do, I think it’s about doing everything you can,” she said. “The uncertainty of the future is exciting but also intimidating, because we don’t know yet what we’re going to do and are still brainstorming ways of continued and consistent engagement. It’s important to make sure it’s not a cyclical thing of only ramping up around election time. I’m excited to get together and see how we can keep doing what we’re doing and keep people involved.”
Whether it’s with Vote100, PSAGV, or on her own, Blanco is sure to keep up the good fight for political engagement and is happy to do so, hand in hand with others who share her passion for it.