It’s pretty commonplace these days to hear someone complaining about youth apathy. Either they’re making the fallacious claim that we’re all privileged and dislocated from the world around us, or they’re making false assumptions about our willingness to participate in the political process. Either way, they couldn’t be further from the truth.
Underestimating the growing power of young people is quite frankly one of the most catastrophic mistakes any person, politician, or institution can make. In my personal experience engaging with students on campus, I’ve come to understand exactly how engaged young people really are. Many of them are simply looking for ways to exercise their electoral power. The real problem isn’t apathetic young people. The real problem is that young people have been ignored, undervalued, and left behind time and time again.
In 2008, roughly 20% of the voting population was made up of young people and that number will continue to grow if we begin to address the barriers that youth face when trying to exercise their civic power. Even better, when we actually get young people registered to vote, they show up on election day!
The youth turn out rate in 2008 is a clear indication that young people are anything but apathetic. We just have to start making the issues they care about central to our voter engagement projects. In fact, through our youth voter engagement campaign at CSU Long Beach, we have been able to reach out to an incredible number of students and get them registered to vote. All we had to do is start meeting students where they are and engage them on the issues that are relevant to their lives. Kierra Johnson and Rob Baker, for example, emphasize the potential of online organizing,
Online engagement is a crucial place to start for politicians that want the youth vote. Social media is a language that savvy politicians can employ to show young people that our lives and our styles are respected in the legislative arena. If politicians aren’t online, then they aren’t engaging with the largest growing voting block, and who does that serve? The engagement can’t stop, however, with a few tweets or status updates. Strategists need to follow the lead of youth activists who push online enthusiasm to the streets in ways that move young people to act.
It’s time for political parties to stop using the youth vote as a group of expendable constituents. And as young people, it’s time for us to start holding the political machine accountable. After all, we are the future of this country and it is our values that will continue to shape the kind of political system that we envision for that future. It is my firm belief that the youth vote will not only impact this midterm election in an amazing way, it will continue growing between now and the 2012 elections.
Andrew (AJ) is a vehement progressive, youth activist, and reproductive justice organizer. When he's not busy with the movement, you can usually find him dancing in the club or watching trashy reality tv.