I did not realize just how dramatically Brexit turnout varied by age:
So you can say (as your text message put it): “If your generation does to my generation what they did in the UK, I will be very unhappy.”
And people of my ancient vintage can say, with Kevin Drum, “Eventually the kids are going to figure out how badly their elders are screwing them, and maybe then they’ll finally muster the energy to cast a ballot.”
Forced to choose, I’d be with Drum. But that’s a pretty arid and sterile debate, don’t you think? When people like me complain to people like you about young people not voting, it’s pretty ridiculous: you’re on (or pretty damn close to) the front lines in trying to change that.
We’ve all had a teacher who complains about all the students who are absent. In front of a classroom full of everyone who showed up.
So now to generalize about people I can’t possibly understand: your contemporaries. (I would be eager to hear your reaction to the following.)
To the extent that young people don’t vote because they don’t think it’ll make a difference… they clearly have a point. Voting for Hillary Clinton won’t solve all the country’s problems, any more than voting for Obama did. Or, as Bernie Sanders put it in his inimitable way:
No president, not Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, not the greatest president you can possibly imagine can address the enormous problems facing the working families of our country by him or herself. That is the truth, and that is why we need a grassroots political movement in this country: a political revolution.
Whether you share Bernie’s politics or not, it’s pretty obvious voting isn’t enough. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote: just that you shouldn’t leave the polling place imagining you’ve done the whole job. If you do, when a politician doesn’t deliver on all of his/her promises,* you become alienated and walk away — and things get even worse.
So position it as Voting AND.
Voting AND what? Whatever you want: Getting involved in a local or national civic organization, emails to the editor or your congressperson, going to a candidate’s debate, running for office, whatever. You set aside one hour a year to make sure you’re registered and then go vote. You then set aside one hour a month (or more) to be an active citizen, connecting directly to the political system in whatever way works for you. Because there’s no possible way a democracy can work if all people do is vote (or not vote).
From the standpoint of political strategy, Voting AND has a major advantage: It tells people the truth. (Because it’s not as if y’all don’t know that voting for a politician won’t — by itself — solve all your problems.)
From the standpoint of the people you’re talking to, “Voting AND” offers two important side benefits, even if the politicians they vote for disappoint them (which happens, here on Earth).
First, you feel better about yourself, same as everyone does when they get involved in something bigger than themselves. Human nature seems to work that way.
Second, you help prevent the kind of stupid catastrophes that just happened in the UK and might well happen here in November, where majorities of your white elders have somehow hypnotized themselves into imagining that Donald Trump would be a capable President. (They seem to imagine that the job’s #1 qualification is the ability to piss off the politically correct. Apparently I don’t understand my contemporaries any better than I understand yours.)
(There’s also a tiny bit of cold comfort: if the catastrophe does happen, you don’t have to feel guilty that you were too stupid and feckless to try to stop it.)
But those are just the side benefits. The real issue is: you want to live in a good country that works.
I would ask young people the same question I’d ask anyone else: How much effort do YOU think American citizenship requires?
It’s not Voting OR. It’s Voting AND.
*As an aside, if you go back and look at Obama’s promises, he’s kept far more of them than most people realize.