Why We Vote: Our individual civic responsibility
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 17:04
“Voting participation in the 18-24 demographic has been on the decline since 1971 when the voting age was set at 18,” said Ed Mirecki, director of student involvement at UWT, and “Why We Vote” panelist, during the discussion portion of the evening. This event, organized by ASUWT, hosted Secretary of State Sam Reed, Pierce County auditor Julie Anderson, and Mayor of Tacoma Marilyn Strickland, all of whom spoke on the responsibility of young people as voters.
Civic engagement all across our country is at an all time low: fewer than 35% of those registered to vote actually do so regularly, volunteering is at its lowest point since the statistic was first measured, and civic organizations consider anyone below the age of 65 young. Civic engagement is much higher among the older generation, because college age adults don’t seem to realize, as Reed explained, that we have the most to lose.
Each of the speakers gave methods and advice on getting involved, however one common theme was that young people must realize how voting affects their everyday lives. Not just the here and now of higher education or marijuana legalization, but our future, our environment, our healthcare, and so many other things.
The next step is, of course, to register to vote, but, as Strickland said, “it’s great to register, but if you don’t show up to vote it really doesn’t do any good.” Instead we must feel a “personal responsibility for the good of the nation.” As citizens of this country we have a binding contract with our community: we owe our engagement, and it owes us protection.
When immigrants come here, registering for and participating in the voting process is a thrill. Throughout Sam Reed’s Civic College tour he has heard many wondering questions from exchange students from places like China, Jordan, and Columbia, who could not fathom our laissez-faire attitude toward voting.
Alex Miller, another panelist and the communications director of Washington Bus, works with young, civically engaged people every day and in his experience, the “narration of apathy is a self fulfilling prophecy.” Most young people don’t feel that their vote is expected or influential so they simply don’t care. Politics are boring, and, while yes we do have a duty to our community, we also have a lot of other things to do. He suggests that instead of trying to make politics cool, young people must find what is political about cool things.
Undoubtedly, however, classic civic engagement still holds value. Strickland’s recipe for citizenship includes understanding how government works, being involved, and knowing the community. Not only will these experiences fulfill your responsibility, but you will gain valuable knowledge and influential contacts. Reed got started in politics by helping on a campaign, and he has been in Olympia ever since.
But the most important aspect of civic engagement, which was mentioned by each of the speakers and panelists, was education. You can register and even vote, but if you don’t really understand what you are voting for, this is only slightly more helpful than not voting at all.
But be careful where you get your information. Strickland stressed the point that while social media can wield great political power, it can also massively eschew facts. Four words, taken out of context and posted on Twitter can end a candidate’s campaign.
Patrick O’ Callahan, UWT lecturer and opinion page editor of the Tacoma News Tribune, feels that social media is ruining our political life in that we have such power over what we see online that we may never come across anything that challenges our view. All of the panelists felt that face to face discussion couldn’t be fully replaced by online discussion boards. In fact, Strickland requested that, after we have located city hall, we should come in and talk to our civic leaders; they are just people, and need advice as well.
As for civic volunteering and involvement, the panel disagreed: while Miller admired the Occupy movement’s rather chaotic version of focused coherence, O’Callahan said that “the organized will beat the disorganized one hundred times over.”
While the fate of the Occupy Movement may shift opinion more towards O’Callahan’s view, Ally Molloy, ASUWT president, agreed with Miller: young people today are individualistic, and don’t want to be led, they want to come and go on their own terms. But, however the structure and outlet for civic engagement is changing, the main point is to be engaged.
According to O’Callahan, in ancient Greece they had a word for those who were too wrapped up in their own lives to be civically engaged; roughly translated, that word is idiot. Don’t be an idiot. Our country needs each and every one of us to be to be models of civic engagement, and who is better at connecting with young people than other young people? Changes can occur, but only if all of us take responsibility and act.