The United States 2012 elections are quickly approaching. Once again, young Americans have the ability to choose the country’s leaders and define the contours of this nation — a right those in the Middle East are literally dying for.
The Middle East is currently experiencing unprecedented democratic movements called the “Arab Spring.”
Massive uprisings have toppled rulers who have sustained dictatorships for decades and oppressed the right to vote. The Arab Spring countries look to the United States as a model to emulate. They seek the same democratic accountability, legitimacy and transparency ingrained within this structure.
But maybe we should be looking toward them. Maybe American youth should admire Arab youth and how much they value democratic rights. At the very least, this is a two-way street.
The Arab Spring demonstrates that young people should operate as active political citizens and make informed decisions during elections.
The general public contributes to the success of the Arab Spring revolutions, and the youth population plays a specifically pivotal role.
Young Americans, on the other hand, appear less politically involved and take their voting rights for granted by being minimally involved in elections.
The youth in the Middle East clamor in the streets as they push for more rights such as the ability to elect their leaders.
Why then, in a democratic nation such as the United States, does youth involvement not match that of the youth in the Middle East?
Countless movements in the United States, such as “Rock the Vote,” have advocated for political participation, stressing that one should not neglect this special privilege. The work of such groups improved youth turnout, but not by substantial margins.
Many praised the 2008 presidential elections for attracting a large youth population (designated as ages 18-29). Still, according to CivicYouth.org, a civic engagement group, only 51 percent of eligible young people voted.
Certain factors, however, deter some from heading to the ballot boxes. Many believe their single vote won’t impact who wins, and subsequently choose not to participate.
Others feel hesitant to invest the time and effort to register or vote. Some also assume they don’t possess adequate information about the candidates to commit to vote for one or the other.
Some youth actually have legitimate barriers to voting. Several young people might not have citizenship.
A host of countries consistently do not uphold the privilege of the right to vote, but some don’t fully recognize how precious this opportunity is because they never had to fight to secure it.
The youth constitute a significant portion of the voting population. They should not disconnect themselves from politics because elected officials pass legislation that affects them and everyone.
For instance, federal funding will shift based upon who wins. If a Republican wins the presidential election, he or she may implement more budget slashes. This could result in cuts to higher education programs such as those supporting Pell Grants.
Go and vote on Election Day — it’s a right worth dying for.
Deborah Oh is a junior majoring in political science.