Kal Penn, actor and co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign, spoke Sunday to students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Also speaking at the event were Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and state Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Wis.), both of whom are campaigning for re-election.
Student issues such as access to affordable education and health insurance were the key topics of the speeches, as well as Democratic successes in Wisconsin and Washington D.C. The speakers also addressed challenges still facing the country.
Baldwin wrote a provision for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a bill that allows students to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26. Baldwin talked about the American dream: "If you work hard, play by the rules, you can get ahead." She feels this dream is being endangered by Wall Street and big banks.
Baldwin also criticized partisan politics in Congress and her Republican opponent, former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, for working with and protecting special interests.
"If this election is about who writes the rules and for whose benefit, then you have one of the clearest choices you have ever had," Baldwin said.
Penn, who first volunteered in 2007 for then-Sen. Obama’s presidential election campaign, said that he felt drawn to Obama because he was the only candidate who would stand up for his friends’ problems. These problems included not having enough money for both textbooks and health insurance and being discharged from the armed forces because of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," an American military policy that bars openly homosexual men and women from serving in the military.
Penn championed President Obama’s social policy successes, like the repealing of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and speaking out against the Defense of Marriage Act. He also urged students to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a partially refundable annual tax credit of $2,500 made available for students and their parents, and praised President Obama’s doubling of available Pell Grant funds.
Lassa spoke against Governor Walker’s repealing of the Equal Pay Protection Act, a law which allowed pay discrimination suits to be heard in state courts, as opposed to much more expensive federal courts. Lassa also criticized Republican lawmakers for interfering with women’s healthcare while they advocated for less government control.
All three speakers urged the audience to register to vote and volunteer for campaigns while pointing to Republican supported legislation that could potentially disenfranchise young voters, such as voter identification laws and cuts of 1.6 billion to K-12 education in Wisconsin.
"We need people like you, people who care, to be involved," Lassa said.
Penn said that talking about the issues with other people, knowing one’s rights as a voter, and focusing on successes while supporting candidates who do the same are just a few of the actions students could undertake to become involved.
"You have the power to re-elect our President. You have the power to send me to the United States Senate. You have the power to reelect Julia Lassa," Baldwin said. "You have the power. Use it wisely."