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Get Out to Vote Bus makes its way back to Orono for midterm election

By Ilaria Bardini, freelance contributor

On the evening of Nov. 7, members of the University of Maine College Democrats and the Maine Peace Action Committee (MPAC) gathered at the Steam Plant Parking lot. The members’ goal was to decorate a 1946 Greyhound bus proudly driven by Sonja Birthisel, a member of the Orono Town Council and director of the Wilson Center.

With craft materials and speakers blasting music in hand, the group went to work covering the bus with phrases promoting the upcoming election.

Pictured: Sonja Birthisel begins work on the bus decoration process, hoping that she can encourage more students to engage in the voting process with the help of the bedazzled bus.

Birthisel, the organizer of the Get Out the Vote Bus (GOTVB), first came to Orono in 2011 to pursue her master’s degree and has been here ever since. She has become increasingly involved with the community by putting on programs at the Wilson Center, participating as a member of the Orono Town Council and engaging with UMaine student groups.

“I’m feeling happy and like I’m part of a wonderful community effort,” Birthisel said.

The thought process behind the GOTVB was not only to create a mobile reminder to vote but also to encourage community engagement.

“Voting is important because we rarely have the channel and means to change the lives of others and ourselves,” said Meredyth Waters, the vice president of the UMaine Democrats and treasurer of MPAC.

Waters explained that college students may be hesitant to engage in the voting process because they may feel like these issues do not impact them.

“With the startling rise in brash attacks on both our democracy and the rights of many groups in our community, it has never been more important to vote to protect what matters. While voting is only one facet of civic participation, it’s one too simple to fail to do,” added Nick Tiner, the president of the UMaine College Democrats.

It is a well-known fact that there is strength in numbers and collaboration is an integral aspect of maintaining democracy. However, with the sometimes scary and serious nature of the issues that are currently being discussed in politics, the need for a more lighthearted take on community action is needed.

Members of the Maine Peace Action Committee and College Democrats joined Sonja to decorate the bus. They were joined by Mike Tipping, candidate for senate, and his two kids.

“Decorating the vote bus was a joy. It is wonderful that great community leaders like Sonja work to provide an important resource for folks and have fun while doing it. I hope people were able to enjoy riding the bus as much as I did decorating it,” Tiner said.

Birthisel additionally highlighted the sheer extent of the community engagement that night.

“One of the candidates for office, Mike Tipping, stopped by and brought his kids, so it is a really wonderful group of folks coming together to promote democracy in our town tomorrow,” Birthisel said.

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