A few generations ago, someone might have told you 1960 was the election year that got them into politics. We can count those watershed moments, the elections that changed something — 1968, 1980, 1992, 2000, 2008 — those transformative moments of economic hardship or cultural shift that penetrated typical Americans’ lives, even those purposefully or haplessly apolitical. We could consider for a moment that these shifts were the helm, and those elections, the tiller; and at a moment when the country took a sharper turn than before, those of us on the ship got thrown a little — for some, out of the picture, and others, into the fray.
So in a sense, we’re lucky to have had 2016, if only for its stellar ability to have galvanized millions of young people to begin thinking about the sway of other political tides, to consider for a moment the pivotal role they could play in a national election, or even a city council meeting. But even after the great national shock 2016 caused, complacency still exists, and still proves problematic. The midterm elections are just around the corner — and if change is to come, our generation must vote.
To become politicized in college seems to be a great American tradition. It seems to open our eyes to larger questions and remind young people that they are an integral part of something larger than themselves. For some, that’s enough. Politics is a natural outgrowth of the recognition that our entire lives are contingent upon the health of our democracy, and the quality of our policy.
Voter turnout among young people has always been low, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. It’s up for debate whether most young people care, but it’s certainly no surprise that they don’t show up to the polls. This trend doesn’t incriminate millennials any more than other generations in history. The problem, of course, is that today’s politics are more polarized, more extreme and more anti-democratic than that experienced by any other generation in modern history. And thus, though it may not be preferable, we must — must — perform better than our parents did.
If the present administration’s deep and vitriolic attacks on our free press go unchecked, America’s future journalists may not find themselves with the same quality or availability of a platforms their predecessors enjoyed; and America’s future taxpayers may find that their right to a representative government is no longer a right after all. As funding for the arts and sciences get slashed, so too does the potential for our innovation and creativity to change lives, for our own domestic research to make monumental strides in human history.
To turn out young people in the upcoming midterms and the elections afterward, we have to do our due diligence in ensuring that we and our peers understand that politics does not have to be a lifelong obsession, but must be an unquestionable duty to country. Voting cannot be about whether you “really care,” but should come down to whether you live here. It is an obligation, the price for admission to enjoying democratic benefits — legalism, liberty and civil rights among them.
Some would argue that in order to increase millennial turnout we must somehow jump through hoop after hoop to guarantee we understand we “matter.” Well, to return to those watershed moments — if current events haven’t convinced you that politics makes a difference and that there is a difference to be made, nothing will. If you want your issues on the table and your voice heard, you must vote. Here is a reality of democracy: No campaign in history has catered to the needs of a demographic that doesn’t turn out to vote. If we want change, it’s on us.
Perhaps antithetical to our generational or cultural self obsession, voting is not an act purely about you, and something you do only if you are convinced the system thinks you’re special. During moments of historic change, people didn’t march because they felt “heard” — they showed up precisely because they didn’t. Civic engagement allows us to be cognizant of issues affecting our families, our fellow citizens, our marginalized communities and our nation.
When November’s midterms roll around, don’t wait for someone to hand you a voice or come around to pander to you. Change must be made, and we can start now. We can break the cycle and we can build the kind of country we deserve. Let’s vote.