Democracy and Difference: Why blaming the younger generation for our mistakes is wrong.

One of things about working elections and campaigns is that you have little time to process the results and impact of the broader election picture until a bit later. It looks like the apathy of younger voters is being blamed for the lost seats. I am a proponent of voting, but this is not a fair critique.

Firstly, from what I have read and come to know, the younger generation in more informed and in many ways participatory than previous generations, including my own. They just chose to exercise their social participation in other ways besides voting. After all, according to a the oligarchy study published out of Princeton this year, along with some work by the bright folks at the Pew Institute, lobbying is by far more influential on shaping public policy than voting. Younger generations are on social media and part of how they define their own social participation is through online social media, but they also contribute their time and money. Look at protests at Berkley, USC, Ann Arbor, and many other places and tell me that young people don’t care about their nation; it simply isn’t true. They just chose to participate differently than others do.

Another issue with blaming young people for election losses is that while statistics say that 50% of voters turned out, this is by far not half the population. An estimated 25% of the U.S. population eligible to vote is not registered. This doesn’t include the high rates of incarcerated persons, many people f color, who are not allowed to vote, and in many states those on parole, probation, or with felonies also cannot vote. In many states restrictive and discriminatory laws are allowed to be passed that marginalize already marginalized voices. This means that a much smaller percentage of the nation is voting period. We must make voting laws completely regulated by the federal government to take away the power of states to use the polls as a way to oppress the voice of voters. Additionally, while allowing inmates to vote may be too radical for most, any person incarcerated awaiting court or released after serving their term should be allowed to vote. In fact, part of re-entry should be making sure folks know their voting rights.

The last and least popular issue among most of my friends and colleagues for why younger people aren’t to blame for the loss of elections is that the Democratic Party deserves some responsibility and accountability for the losses and apathy of voters. Sorry, republicans are not to blame for all of America’s ills. I am not one to pile on President Obama either, but he has made some ill advised decisions and lost some of the organizing focus that helped make him popular to begin with, meaning voters are not only pissed, but disconnected from him and party politics. It is so easy for people to tell others to just vote for the lesser of two evils often times and to call someone’s vote for a third party candidate a waste, but you are further alienating them. They are exercising their conscious and participation, sorry you don’t agree with their candidate. I have always secretly thought straight party ticketing, when and where legal, was a terrible exercise of civic responsibility.

Finally, the governance system must change for many younger people to feel like voting matters again. Lobbying must be completely regulated through policy reform, voting must be regulated at a federal level, and enforced as well. Campaign spending must be seriously reformed to allow for the potential for a third party to be a threat. Mark-ups must also be stopped, as laws and policy should not come down to blackmail. Despite the low turnout this election and the overall frustration of democrats and liberals across the country, there is blame to go around in many directions. But before you take out all of your frustration on the younger generation of voters, think about the many other issues impacting democracy in American first, before you cast that stone.

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