It’s a difficult time to be a young person in America, but Tuesday night — election night — gave us hope.
Americans under the age of 30 registered and voted in droves, pushing through progressive policies, flipping state legislatures and changing the party makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives. Studies project that it was the highest youth turnout in decades, and after two bleak years, it felt like political progress was within reach.
But then, on Wednesday night, 12 people, including college students and a law enforcement officer, were gunned down in Thousand Oaks, a city only 40 miles from campus. It seemed that just when we thought that our voices had been heard and the world was getting better for young people, the illusion was violently pierced with a spray of bullets. While our hearts go out to those affected, we also must see this needless shooting as the reminder that it is: There is so much more political work that must be done in this country.
First, we should celebrate the positives. According to early CNN reports, 1 in 6 midterm ballots were cast by first-time voters, and almost half of these first time voters are under the age of 30, according to CBS. A survey from Harvard University Institute of
Politics showed that 40 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds stated their definite intent to vote, heralding a significant increase from 2010 and 2014 midterm turnouts.
Across campus, at all levels and for months, we have seen burgeoning political activism at USC. VoteSC signed up an estimated 2,000 student voters, including 500 at a National Voter Registration Day drive, a marked increase from the 411 students registered in 2016. The Political Student Assembly, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, Undergraduate Student Government and Unruh Associates, among other student organizations, worked tirelessly to encourage political participation and make voting more accessible to students.
From canvassing in nearby districts to tabling on Trousdale Parkway, the actions of these student groups exemplified productive political engagement and encouraged all students to mobilize for the causes they believe in.
Culminating on Tuesday night, myriad campus events — including the election night viewing party Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism held in partnership with the Center for the Political Future — were a testament to the widespread political efficacy the midterms wrought.
A mere day later, however, we were hit with the news of Wednesday night’s shooting.
At Thousand Oaks’ Borderline Bar & Grill, a popular establishment packed with young people on its college night, 13 lives were taken, including that of the shooter and a sheriff. The venue was not so different from our own 901 Bar & Grill, and USC’s proximity to the attack has greatly impacted many students. Those present largely hailed from Pepperdine University, Cal Lutheran University, Moorpark College, CSU Channel Islands and other schools.
There’s no doubt our domestic efforts partly advanced the youth voter phenomenon that gripped the nation at large, but the USC community must not grow complacent in the off-election years to come.
Students must support not just each another but our neighboring communities and young people across the nation. In a memo to the USC community Thursday, Provost Michael Quick put it best: “In each instance [of disaster], we have banded together, supported each other, worked through our grief as a community, and rededicated ourselves to the creation of a better world where this no longer happens.” Now, more than ever, we cannot stop.
As young people, we have grown up tragically accustomed to gun violence, and prepared for the possibility that a shooting could occur at any given time. We, and future generations of Americans, should not have to live with that pervasive fear in our lives. We must continue to push for change in a world that has become riddled with violence — a world where schools, movie theaters, concerts, bars and places of worship are no longer safe — and the best way to achieve that change is through advocacy, organizing and voting.
The only way to enact positive legislative change is by voting and if this election cycle has taught us anything, it’s that our vote and our voice matter. Our campus had made considerable strides in political participation over the past few months, but we can’t afford to slow down when our peers and colleagues are being senselessly killed.
We can’t forget that we have the potential to alter the nation’s political future for the better. Between now and next Election Day, let’s keep doing what we’re doing: making calls, knocking on doors, mobilizing our peers on-campus and engaging online.
With older generations’ turnout remaining stagnant at 68.9 percent and Baby Boomers having surpassed their peak voting power in 2004 according to a Pew Research Center report, it’s well within the power of young voters to radically improve the state of American politics. We all have a responsibility to show up on the streets and at the polls, and we must take that responsibility seriously.
Daily Trojan Fall 2018 Editorial Board