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Confluence Project's supporters urge UWEC students during voter registration rally to raise their voices

Posted March 13th, 2014

By Emily Meils

Courtesy of the Leader-Telegram

Students have a voice in the upcoming April 1 election.

At least, that's what Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and other local Confluence Project supporters hoped students were reminded of when they gathered Monday at the UW-Eau Claire Davies Center.

"If you don't like what you see, consider staying and being a part of that change," Vernon said to the crowd.

The proposed $77.2 million Confluence Project includes a community arts center and a mixed-use building consisting of retail space, student housing and public parking.

The April 1 election includes two referendums that are important in deciding the

future of the Confluence Project. The firstreferendum question asks voters if the county should contribute $3.5 million toward the Confluence Project. The other will ask voters if there should be a referendum before $1 million or more in city funds could be spent on a building planned for dramatic, musical or artistic performances.

State Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, who also spoke at the rally, stressed the importance of the student voice in the upcoming elections.                                 

"People always talk about how your voice, the student voice, is the voice of the future," Wachs said. "It needs to be the voice of the present."

City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said the spring election could come down to students, if they take the time to vote.

If every vote for a student was converted to one mile, it would be enough to get from Vancouver, Wash., to Key Largo, Fla., or about 3,315 miles, Emmanuelle said.

"However, what normally happens in a spring election is there's barely enough votes to get from Vancover to Walla Walla, Wash. (about 247 miles)," she said.

Vernon said he thinks art and expression are "especially inherent" in Eau Claire residents, and he sees "no reason" for the Confluence Project not to move forward.

"I can't help but get extremely excited about how in this town we have an opportunity to put up a building that is going to outlast us all," Vernon said.

Vernon said sometimes "there's just not enough to keep us going" here in Eau Claire, which is why he left for a while in pursuit of his music career.

"Rather than saying no - which is what everyone has said in this community since I was a kid, and why I ended up having to leave - don't say no. Say how can I help; how can I make it better?" he said.

Student supporters also spoke out for the Confluence Project and encouraged their fellow Blugolds to vote.

Dane Jaskowiak, president of the Eau Claire Singing Statesmen, said that he had not planned to pursue music at UW-Eau Claire, but it has since opened many doors for him during his college career.

"I support the Confluence Project because it will enhance the already great support of the arts here," he said.

Eau Claire student body President Bryan Larson said he thought it was fitting the Student Senate was hosting the rally at Davies Center, "a building that wouldn't have been built without student support."

UW-Eau Claire freshman Katy Hackworthy said she came to the rally to learn more about the Confluence Project.

"I wanted to vote, but I really don't think you should vote unless you're educated," she said.

Hackworthy said she's never voted in a spring election before but plans to this year.

"I just think it's really a no-brainer because it's bridging the gap between the campus and the community," she said.

Jaskowiak said he thinks there are still many students who are not informed about the Confluence Project, but hopes events like the rally will continue to raise awareness.

Student Senate member Brittney Gonzales said she was very happy with the response at the rally.

"I think it's been great having Justin Vernon be a spokesperson," she said. "It's gotten the word out to students."

Despite the benefits highlighted at Monday's rally, many in the community have raised questions regarding the Confluence Project.

Nearly 5,000 people signed a petition forcing the April 1 referendum in Eau Claire to limit future city arts-related spending to no more than $1 million without approval from voters. Groups like Voters with Facts also have surfaced to share their doubts about the project.

Those opposed to the Confluence Project have questioned the necessity of a new building, the cost of the project and the building's distance from campus, among many other concerns.

Though there no date has been set at this point, MaryJo Cohen, spokesperson for Voters with Facts, said the group also plans to reach out to student voters in the near future.

"All voices are important in the upcoming election," Cohen said via email. "Voters with Facts does plan to address the students. We are very fortunate to have a chancellor who believes that a balanced approach is critical for a good education."