By Michael Pasternak (ME ’17)
It’s not your fault. Yes, despite what you might have heard on the news, from your parents and grandparents, online, it is not your fault. The political system we have inherited is, by all quantitative metrics, built to suppress not just the youth vote, but any voice of dissidence whatsoever.
The political system we have inherited is, by all quantitative metrics, built to suppress not just the youth vote, but any voice of dissidence whatsoever.
Youth voter turnout during the last midterm elections was 19.9%, compared to the average of 26.6% from the past 40 years, according to a Washington Post article from this year. In most campaigns, there is barely even an attempt to garner youth votes, with budgets being overwhelmingly used to target more reliable voting groups rather than what is seen as an apathetic and uninvolved generation. Part of what that implies is true, there’s no reliable way to keep track and spend money on the youth vote. A lot of students and young voters haven’t really settled in a single location and it can be difficult to use targeted TV ads, mailings, and even emails in order to reach potential voters. That’s a simple reality which should be acknowledged. However, I would argue that in some ways, that gives our generation a political advantage, one that we are simply not using.
More than half of millennials claim that a majority of content they post online is political in nature. In other words, our social media has replaced TV ads and mailings in terms of the political conversation that we engage in. We are far more active than prior generations in terms of how we absorb political information, which, while presenting us an opportunity to be better informed than ever before, can be a double-edged sword. As I’m sure many of us are aware, Facebook and other social media sites curate content based on what you are more likely to click, and the reality of that system is that what we agree with ends up being what we see more of. The challenging but necessary reality of politics is that contention is not only healthy, but required. Oftentimes, it is easier and simpler to not even begin a contentious conversation, to put your name and face behind a cause or a candidate, but if we do not, then others will in our place.
Right now the youth are being completely ignored in our national, state, and (even more so) local politics because we are not turning out to vote. In fact, the current framework of state and local elections allows just a single person to pump enough money into advertisements and in-person canvassing that they are the only voice left and they will win by default.
Simply put, we are the answer to that problem. Only the youth have the sort of organic, transparency granting tools that can reform a system that refuses to reform itself. This year, more canvassing apps, websites, and social media pushes have been generated at the grassroots level, as opposed to created artificially by campaigns and special interests, than ever before in history. These tools and efforts have an undeniable impact; this national election has already proven that the previous standards aren’t really as implacable or invincible as was previously thought.
In other words, your vote does matter and your voice matters even more. My call to all of you is not just to get involved with school politics which so clearly and immediately effect your life, but to look into local and state candidates, and to make sure that you both know how to vote for the presidential race and for the midterm elections. In each generation, there is a wave of political vigor which has always produced a great deal of positive change. We can all be that change. Do not let the stereotypes for millennials get in the way of persuading and arguing for what you want to see in the world, rather than assuming that someone else will argue for you.