I'm hoping the takeaway from the Andrew Oswalt affair is absolute clarity that votes matter even at the seemingly smallest, most inconsequential levels, where not much power appears to be on the line. As a student body representative at a state university, one cannot say that Oswalt was in a position of notable power, but just look at the power he did have to disrupt, distract, distress, and mar the reputation of an entire community. It mattered that he was in that position, and it matters that he was removed. It's just unfortunate that it took so much of a spotlight to get him removed. No neo-Nazis should be more of an obvious no-brainer.
Another takeaway should be this: The reason he was in that position in the first place wasn’t because he openly ran on a white supremacist platform, and people dug it. It’s because he ran at all in a small field presenting limited options, and in an atmosphere of apathy. Most students at Oregon State University probably didn’t vote for student body positions at all when he ran in the past. For those who did vote, his chance of getting their votes was high, because the field was limited.
This brings to mind more critical positions that run the risk of being filled by some pretty awful folks, just because they are the only choice, judges and district attorneys, in particular. Those "little" local positions — city councilors, district attorneys, sheriffs, county commissioners, small town mayors — do matter.
West Linn (Feb. 19)
The writer is a senior instructor in OSU's Anthropology Department.