In the last few days, we have seen numerous articles urging, even demanding, an assault on the ballot box next Tuesday by the millions of millennials across America. It is our duty. It is our right. It is our obligation to our country, the articles claim, citing the rising tides of voter apathy among young Americans. But with a rise in unemployment, a weak and still struggling economy, and national health care in jeopardy, at roughly 21% of the national vote and only 13% of the anticipated turnout, it’s an oversimplification to say that millennials are just apathetic; many are simply angry. And we have more than enough reason to be.
Over the past four years, we witnessed our tuition bills go up while our wages went down, 3.5 million of us earned no wages at all; we looked on as our families lost their homes while we lost a little hope. Under the previous administration, a third of the soldiers who died in Iraq never reached their 22nd birthdays, the War on Terror called our civil liberties into question, and young workers learned that our social security benefits were being eroded one baby boomer at a time. So we raced to the ballot box, right? Wrong. According to Gallup, intentions of the under-thirties to vote dipped by 7 percentage points from 2004 to 2008 and an additional 13 points this year.
There are those who reason that having not experienced the life-changing three M’s — marriage, mortgages, and money — young adults are in fact “too young” to care about the operation of our nation’s political apparatus. Some of that may be true, but besides reducing young Americans to techno-philes with more concern for Google’s latest Android than the next speaker in the House of Representatives or the current inflation rate, these arguments depreciate legitimate issues facing nearly a quarter of the enfranchised population. What they refrain from underscoring is not how young people are not drawn to the issues (an argument repeated ad nauseam), but how by and large, the issues are not framed to address young people’s concerns.
We care about having jobs when we graduate, paying off student loans and credit card debt, retaining health insurance, finding affordable rent, and not camping out in our parents’ basements. But we also care about carving out a future in marriage or the single life, in houses or apartments, and making more than the minimum wage. Since 2008, student loans have been renegotiated, health insurance has been extended, and despite the slight uptick in unemployment in October, jobs are becoming more visible on the horizon. But a lot more remains to be done.
It is not enough to claim that young adults have not done enough living to care about the standard of living in this country. Rather, witnessing the veritable circus our nation’s politics have become, where barbs and witticisms replace sound policy and bi-partisan compromise, it should come as no surprise that many young people have grown disenchanted with political leadership in general, regardless of which side of the aisle the bully pulpit is on. Half of college-graduates feel the government doesn’t care about them and over 70% believe major corporations are at the helm of our national agenda. Many young voters are disillusioned with the acute awareness that despite receiving that shiny new ballot on your 18th birthday, as a population we often find ourselves in the wake of a trail of broken promises and a system that rewards empty posturing, pandering, and infuriatingly dishonest politicking.
When our parents were young and angry, student activism in the '60's was at an all-time high. They were fired up, impassioned, and had faith in their ability to incite action. Occupy came close, but was UC Davis, Kent State? Growing jaded, have we resigned ourselves to simply smoldering in our rage? Or are we really as apathetic as everyone says? In the words of a dithering young man, have we lost the gumption to “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?” Ultimately, the endogeneity of our political system is such that getting our grievances on the political table requires coming to the table, which keeps our issues on the table, and so the cycle goes. Thus, deepening our involvement in the political process by whatever means might be the only way to inspire change and demand a focus on the issues most affecting us.
Will I cast my vote on Tuesday? Certainly. But I’m not just doing it to prove that I am not apathetic. And I'm not doing it because I believe my vote will initiate radical change. I'm voting because they have to hear us and keep hearing us to remember why we matter and to know that spoon and fork in hand, some of us are not just angry or apathetic; we’re mad as hell.