Though voting is not the only or most important political action, it often builds positive habits and allows for political action in the future.
It is no great secret that voter participation rates show that “millennials” have the lowest voter turnout rate of any demographic. This statistic always has a biting irony as “millennials” both make up the largest potential voting block, as they do not actually vote much, and also usually will live the longest and thereby be the most affected by current policies. Yet, the interpretation of this fact varies significantly depending on who gets hold of the information. I am guilty of citing this as just “a historical characteristic of young voting blocks” in response to the critique of millennials as “privileged, out of touch, needy” and the like. Though I realize that people strategically levy critiques of young people as “irresponsible” or distant from “the real world” as a way to disarm serious social movements and thoughts from the “newfangled youth” that disrupt their perspectives.
As I am obviously biased in my perspective on this issue, I think part of the way of disrupting this unnecessary chasm between age groups requires serious engagement in the political system. However, this only indicates a singular type of change that would occur if millennials more actively engaged in political system, systems expressly political and not. To help achieve this end, I will discuss a few different aspects of the problem, that often go under discussed within the whole “young voters don’t vote much” narrative and it is an “ahistorical unsolvable problem.”
Supposedly one of the largest reasons why millennials do not engage with political systems is because they live “sheltered life styles.” While this criticism usually assumes a default cisheterosexual white man or woman, or just a wealthy person, it often completely disregards the types of privileges associated with being in the work force. Though having a sustained job requires a type of focus and attention and responsibility different from being a young student, it provides a powerful security distant from student life. Many students and young people avoid participating in politics because the pressures of trying to figure their life out and general uncertainty about the future often cause anxiety that hinders political action. With a tenuous future, young students possess trepidation in action that does not immediately contribute to their future economic or social capital or perceived social wellbeing.
Older, more financially stable, folks do similarly, yet the relative costs of minor political acts like voting represents a far more minor sacrifice (especially as most have already developed job stability for much of the future) so more of them do it. This reflects but one of the structural barriers that often disincentivize young people from voting, outside of the procedures and impacts of voting.
Beyond structural barriers, people regularly perpetuate the myth that young people are not affected by many economic and socio political systems that they would vote on. For example, young students who do not yet have a primary job, are asked how they could vote on policies that increase taxes or other laws that supposedly do not directly impact them. Yet, this mythos implies in the first place that all voters vote on policies that have immediate influences on them.
I roll my eyes when I hear this argument from cishet people who are older than me, forgetting that in the ’80s in a California referendum queer people were voted to be rounded up into concentration camps. In the context of local elections, like Lewiston, students are often portrayed as foreign or distant from the needs and ideas of a town.
Though this is true to some extent, this idea reifies the alienation and division that it supposedly points out. These categories undermine and substantiate the divisive and unproductive rhetoric of locals and students that disregards any connection, shared experience, or common goal between townsperson and student.
Separations like these often cause great pains, and often times they leave metaphorical scars on our subconscious. Though often daunting gaps to close, simple, attainable actions like voting often lead to positive future participation in communal spaces.
With that said, I encourage anyone eligible to vote to consider doing so in the run-off election between Ben Chin and Shane Bouchard.