I feel like I woke up today and was, all of a sudden, a political being.
I was disappointed by the Texas gubernatorial race. It has no effect on me whatsoever, but I was sad to see the way the campaigning went and that Greg Abbott beat her out 59-39 (if we’re rounding to whole numbers). Was I surprised?
No. Not in the least. But I like Wendy Davis and that’s enough for the results to bother me, even if they were expected.
I was disappointed by the Indiana races. Watching my county and neighboring counties lean Republican. Again, this is not surprising all things considered: there are a lot of white, conservative individuals in my area. But these are candidates who I disagree with, who I’ve been stuck with before thanks to redistricting, and who now I tried to vote out of office and I’m still stuck with them.
In general, the election is disheartening for a young, progressive woman who is politically aware, which I think is part of the reason I woke this morning to both sad election results and a new-found (maybe?) sense of politicalness.
Of course, I have always been political, partially because my family has always been political. My parents encouraged this in my brother and me by not sheltering us from adult conversation and instead asking us to form our own ideas and opinions about the world around us. And while my pro-union, democratic leaning parents are certainly part of why I’m a progressive individual, they aren’t the be-all-end-all. Because we have disagreed on things, and I have watched my parents come around to different perspectives in the last ten years or so.
And it’s because of this background that I’m deeply disappointed in Millennials for being, stereotypically, a-political. I have many friends who I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty did not turn out to vote yesterday, and who likely could not even name one political candidate from our midterm elections. So it was with this perspective–that many of my peers don’t give a damn–that I found myself reading Erin Gloria Ryan’s “Election 2014 Postmortem: We Fucking Did This To Ourselves” over on Jezebel this afternoon. Ouch.
If you are young and registered to vote, this is worth looking at, both if you voted yesterday (or early or via absentee) and if you didn’t. I feel like it takes a certain level of political awareness to consciously decide to take a stand by not voting. And you have that right to shuck your civic responsibility if you feel ill-informed or you just moved to an area or you simply and frankly really don’t care. But you also need to recognize those consequences and keep your mouth shut when you disagree with the results of an election you did not participate in. You can be disappointed in the results, sure, but you can thank yourself for (lack of) contribution.
Unless you were turned away from the polls, like many Texas citizens thanks to new, stricter, and ridiculous voter ID laws. Then, the system has fucked you over, sometimes accidentally and sometimes in ways that are exact and intentional and downright racist and potentially sexist (both groups that typically tend to vote for Democrats, or at least against Republicans).
So why aren’t we turning out to vote?
I struggled with this decision myself. Voting meant waking up early, driving half an hour to where I’m legally registered to vote, and then driving back to town for work. My permanent address is at my parents, a place where I, for all intents and purposes but actually sleeping, still reside. Was it worth it, when I really only cared about two races? Was it worth it when the republicans would probably outvote me? Was it worth it when so many races in my district have unopposed candidates, the election is more a bureaucratic ceremony that something that actually “counts”?
The truth is that many young voters I know are disillusioned. I’ve had this conversation with my partner many times in the past month. We voted for hope and change in 2008–for healthcare, for women’s rights, for an end to the wars we’re needlessly fighting. We elected Barack Obama, and it’s hard not to feel like he let us down (Sorry, B–copay-less birth control coverage is not enough). We voted again for hope and change in 2012, only to find that Obama continued to create a conservative America that, frankly, many of us did not elect him to do. It was kind of the opposite, you know?
What’s the point? We lament. We elect people who don’t follow through. They’re all the same. We can repeat these refrains over and over again. And we can get downtrodden and assume that change is never going to happen, that as a nation we are spiraling in a direction we don’t want it to go.
We could lament that corporations have more rights than people, and certainly more rights than women. Because your CEO’s ignorance of what birth control actually does is somehow more important than an individual woman’s access to effective contraceptive that fits her lifestyle and isn’t going to break her financially.
But what good does that complaining do?
Nothing, if that’s the extend we take it to. Nothing positive comes from my complaining to my partner about the state of the union, my dislike for republican candidates, the fact that women’s reproductive freedoms are shrinking more and more (like Tennessee’s approval that their constitution says nothing about “secur[ing] or restrict[ing] a right to abortion,” meaning lawmakers are now free to pass laws and regulations restricting access to abortion). It’s preaching to a choir of one, when there’s a congregation of thousands whose perspectives I wish I could change.
In general, there were some major progressive wins in this election: North Dakota and Colorado both rejected ballot measures that could restrict abortion access; Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., all approved pro-marijuana legalization measures; Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota, and Nebraska approved raises to the minimum wage. But these state-wide victories feel almost minor compared to what I’m sure will be a hellacious two years between now and the next election, when more younger voters are presumed to turn out because electing the President is a big deal.
So here I am, talking politics in a way that I typically don’t, unless we limit that conversation to things that impact women’s rights. But the truth is, more (young) people need to get informed, more (young) people need to actively talk politics, and more (young) people need to show up to vote in all elections, not just the Presidential ones. We need more genuine discourse in which views are exchanged and openly challenged in rhetorically effective ways, not in ways that lead to name calling and a number of other rhetorically ineffective strategies associated with internet conversation these days.
People on the whole need the freedom to form their own opinions and have those opinions challenged. Shutting down people who don’t agree with you does not do our arguments, or culture, or our livelihoods any good. It might feel good to mock someone or have the upper hand in a singular moment, but in the long run those kinds of conversations do little to persuade individuals to a new viewpoint and only serve to be self-gratifying among like-minded individuals.