Beyond the Ballot: Start at Home

Wednesday, Dec 2, 2020
by Sabrina Fay ’22, Pace Center Student Correspondent

Beyond the Ballot highlights the actions that the Princeton University community is taking to address issues they care about, as well as the ways people are becoming more informed on these issues. We recently spoke with Kesavan Srivilliputhur, a sophomore concentrating in chemistry who is a Princeton Asian American Student Association policy advocate as well as a Vote100 Fellow.

Kesavan Srivilliputhur’s work with the Princeton Asian American Student Association (PAASA) and Vote100 are intertwined; he first learned about Vote100 while tabling for PAASA at Frist Campus Center, later helping with the Vote100 Day of Action and becoming an undergraduate fellow. In terms of that work with Vote100, Srivilliputhur is proud of having reached more than 5,300 undergraduates about voting registration, making a plan to vote, and general civic engagement. “Our world in general is becoming more political,” he acknowledges, but believes a bump in voting numbers for students can at least in part be attributed to Vote100’s efforts. 

The singular circumstances of this year were a challenge to those efforts in some ways, Srivilliputhur admits, but a boon in others. Normally, Vote100 would be tabling at Frist and getting hands-on, face-to-face interaction with students about their content and resources. Communicating solely through phone and computer is challenging and can at times make things less personal, but also increases the breadth of messaging and who it reaches. Through cold calling, social media, and email communications, Srivilliputhur and his colleagues were able to reach thousands in a short amount of time, where in person they would be limited by the foot traffic going through Frist at any given time. Srivilliputhur thinks the special circumstances of this year are part of why Vote100 has been on so many people’s minds and in their inboxes, and hopes it was successful in urging them to vote. But it’s not just about voting. 

“We know that change starts at home, from the smallest level,” he says. There’s a lot people can do beyond voting to be engaged, Srivilliputhur wants to make clear and encourage. He outlines how people and especially students have a unique power to make change and should make use of it, outlining working on campaigns, writing letters, staying informed, and informing others as ways in which someone may put their time towards political engagement without having to vote, especially if they are unable to for any number of reasons. In the future, Srivilliputhur wants to see more programming focused toward down-ballot voting and international engagement. “Now that the election is over we can focus on other forms of political engagement and don’t have the time pressure of the election,” he points out. And this surplus of time post-election is certainly going to be used wisely by him. 

Outside of his Vote100 work, Srivilliputhur has done census education and voter registration via phone banking for AASA as well as organizing topical discussions with politicians and activists, and participating in efforts which raised more than $5,000 for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund. Srivilliputhur believes strongly in getting involved however you can, and working towards whatever positive change you may make in the moment. “I like to say I’m an extra curriculars major with a minor in chem,” he jokes, but the underlying current of dedication to these causes shows through and acts as an inspiration for others wondering where they might be able to start.