By Dominique Cravins, student, YWCA USA Mission Impact intern
Growing up, my parents instilled in me the history and importance of voting. My parents lovingly explained that voting was a great responsibility, as women and minorities were not always allowed to vote. Understanding this history, impacted and shaped the way I viewed the right to vote.
My vote meant that I counted in my community, state, and nation. My voice was equal to anyone else who voted and just as important. I was immersed in the promise of democracy and quickly became enamored by its potential ability to affect change in my community. As I grew older, I realized not everyone viewed voting with same significance.
As the November midterm elections approach, I have found myself growing more and more frustrated with the apathy some in my generation exhibit. Many students at my college, Louisiana State University, have made comments that millennials share repeatedly — “Why does my vote matter?”; “We live in a red state or a blue district, so our vote doesn’t count.”; and “The person I want to win can win without my vote.”
Millennials dismissively repeat these excuses, so they can continue to be complacent — dangerously complacent. Personally, encouraging my peers to vote is not about political affiliation, but the amazing power every citizen possesses to make a difference and engage in their own governance. Many of us would rather tweet about a candidate than actually get out, show up, and vote for one.
Retweeting is not activism.
According to the U.S. Census, only 46.1 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2016 election, compared to 70.9 percent of 65 and older-aged voters. More than half of adult millennials did not see the importance of exercising their hard-fought right and privilege to vote. This percentage has serious consequences.
Many of my fellow students expressed a mixture of emotions — shock and joy — at the results of the 2016 presidential election, but when I inquired as to whether or not they took part in the voting process, their answer, more likely than not, was “no”.
The lack of participation in national elections pales in comparison to the political apathy many millennials feel towards local elections. In Louisiana, there are several congressional, state supreme court, mayoral, and local council elections this November. While some elections get more attention than others, every single one is important. A person is more likely to feel an immediate effect from the results of a local election than a national one.
One of the measures currently on the ballot would require a unanimous jury to convict people of felonies, instead of the current 10 out of 12, an action that could radically change the justice system in Louisiana. And as it happens, millennials could change more than the judicial system; they could change the entire state. Millennials and the early half of Generation Z are a unique group of social liberals and fiscal conservatives. Political scientists believe this conglomerate could radically shift the state of Louisiana. If my generation truly knew their power, they would embrace it and wield it.
Elected officials are supposed to act based on the wants of their constituents. If millennials want student loan debt reform, they must let their representatives know they are watching, voting, and participating. After all, why is AARP one of the largest and most effective lobbying groups on Capitol Hill? The answer is simply because they represent a large block of the voting population that shows up on election days — the over 70 percent of older voters I mentioned earlier in the article. Until young people similarly vote this consistently and on a large scale, elected officials will not take our needs seriously.
My fellow millennials: the time to vote is now.
States are beginning to place tougher restrictions on voting every day. Issues that affect our futures are being decided today — gun control, criminal justice reform, taxes, access to health care, and immigration, just to name a few.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court just upheld a decision in Ohio to purge voters after two years of inactivity, according to the New York Times — a decision that could affect out-of-state college students or temporarily inactive young voters like me and many of my friends. This is a threat to our democracy, and we must take action to stop it.
Millennials could comprise as much as 31 percent of the overall electorate — if they voted. There is too much at stake to be indifferent. Register to vote today.
It’s easy, but it’s too important to neglect. Register now online or by texting YWCA18 to 788-683 on your cell phone. If you’re in my state of Louisiana, check out the easy-to-use app GeauxVote. If you want to find out more ways to get involved, learn more about your voting rights, and check out information specifically for college students, visit Rock the Vote. Register now, get your friends and family registered, and make sure you show up on election day!
Our futures are at stake, and voting is one of the most crucial ways we can have an impact. After all, if our vote doesn’t matter, why are there people working hard every day to suppress it?