Oscar winner urges students to vote early

Academy-award winning actor Forest Whitaker encouraged students to vote in the 2008 presidential election when he visited USF students at the College of Public Health on Saturday.

A strong supporter of Sen. Barack Obama, Whitaker has traveled to college campuses across the United States to encourage students to register and vote. Whitaker first met Obama during a speech in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he said he was struck by Obama’s concern for the middle-class American.

During the 2004 presidential election, Whitaker said he voted but didn’t participate enough in the election process. To prevent a repeat of the last election’s recounts in Florida, Whitaker urged students to vote early.

“This moment can’t pass us by,” Whitaker said. “Please, do whatever you can do. Call up everybody you know. You’re deciding the future.”

Jessica Lacy, an intern for the Campaign for Change and a political science major, said she agreed with Whitaker’s message.

“(We) have the ability to make so much change if we vote as a block together,” she said.  “People in the polls underestimate students.”

Getting students to vote wasn’t Whitaker’s only objective—he also encouraged students to vote for Obama.

He said it is Obama’s sincerity that he finds so appealing.

“If he were here tonight, he’d have met everybody in the room,” Whitaker said. “He’s so genuine.”

According to the Campaign for Change, 3,356 students have registered to vote since the first day of classes. With seven days left until Florida’s voter registration deadline, the Obama campaign volunteers were eager to influence young voters during Whitaker’s visit. Campaign volunteers greeted students with information about Obama’s platform as well as stickers, decals and posters displaying support for the Democratic ticket.

Spectators also had the opportunity to sign up as volunteers for the campaign’s rush to register as many students as possible.

Lacy said voters have been misinformed about registration and in which districts they are allowed to vote.

“Students are here nine months out of the year,” she said. “They should be voting in Hillsborough County.”

While the message of the evening was the importance of voter registration, the crowd was enthusiastic to hear from a Hollywood actor.

“I think it’s good that (Whitaker) is showing his support,” said Tiffany Nickels-Brown, a sophomore majoring in international studies. “People pay attention when it’s coming from the mouth of someone they’ve seen on TV.”

After Whitaker’s speech, students quickly surrounded him for pictures and autographs. Whitaker said this was his first trip to USF, and the students he has met are passionate about the campaign.

Whitaker said he plans to fly to Michigan where he will speak at additional universities about Obama’s message of unity and bringing people of all backgrounds together.

“I believe (he) is going to be the next president of the United States,” Whitaker said. “I want to continue getting people to volunteer.”