In the midst of violence, discrimination and social discord, which our very own president of the United States propagates, hopelessness can be found everywhere. Our current political climate causes countless residents of the country to feel that their voices do not matter.
This past week, I sat in my room with my absentee ballot on my lap, researching candidates and wondering whether my wishes and visions for our political landscape would ever be fully realized. With corrupt candidates up for election left and right, I find it difficult to know whether I am placing my trust in the right hands. Unfortunately, we must often make compromises. In my head, I weighed whether to vote for anti-corporate leaders who represent my vision for the future—yet whom I know have slim chances of election—or whether I should vote for pro-establishment, incumbent liberal leaders whom I know will face Trump moderately, but not at all radically.
Former President Obama set the country up for progress after a reign of conservative leadership. He instilled and propagated hope. Many in our country falsely believed that a progressive president of color signalled a fundamental shift in the way our country thinks. Yet prejudice and hatred continue to lurk in our society. You can’t weed out the roots of hatred simply by planting a new flower.
Older generations label young people in America as living symbols of hope. However, frustration, prejudice and privilege has seduced a large population of young people in our country into believing the same, conservative, hate-filled jargon that had filled the minds of their ancestors before them. Thus, neo-Nazi organizations are occupied by young people, particularly men.
The Institute for Family Studies stated in a report, “The youngest cohort differs relatively little from the oldest. This suggests that the problem of white identity politics is not something that will be resolved by generational replacement” (Institute for Family Studies, “The Demography of the Alt Right,” 08.09.2018).
If, in fact, today’s youth model the same ideologies of hate as their elders, then classifying all youth as beacons of hope for our society is misleading. Cynicism is an easy friend. Studying the history of hate in our country shows how little America progresses as a country. Slavery is illegal, but white hegemony recreates ways to oppress, exploit and harm people of color again and again. Nazis still shoot Jews. Police still beat, batter and murder innocent people just for their skin color. Hate-filled individuals still harm and kill others for their religion, race or ethnicity, sex or queer identity almost every day, it seems. How can we say that life is hopeful?
Hopelessness is an easy feeling to have, and a valid one, but it is not constructive. To actually progress as a people and country, we must retain hope in a practical sense. Besides protesting, campaigning and living as conscientious and respectful human beings, voting is one of the most effective ways of shifting our political landscape. This is exactly why white hegemony attempts to bar people of color and immigrants from utilizing their power and their voices.
In 2016, only 58 percent of eligible voters cast ballots (PBS, “What does voter turnout tell us about the 2016 election?” 11.20.2016). Even though the law lowered the voting age to 18 in the 1970s, young people still have the lowest voter turnout, particularly during midterm elections (The New York Times, “Young Voters Could Make a Difference. Will They?” 08.02.2018). Polls recently released by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School found that only four out of 10 adults under 30 stated that they plan to vote in this midterm election, which would still mark the highest voter turnout for young people in U.S. history.
The complexities surrounding young adult voter turnout are rooted in the many definitions of who constitutes a young person. Social and hegemonic norms generalize this demographic as politically conscious college students who plan on voting. However, this classification does not include those young adults who are not enrolled in university, those who work full-time, those with families, those in the military, veterans and those still in high school.
Universities, particularly liberal arts schools, pride themselves on encouraging their students to vote. One of my professors even offered students stamps and envelopes to mail in absentee ballots. Despite this, the laws surrounding voting and registering to vote disproportionately affect young people, particularly those who do not fit into the dominant notion of what a young adult is. For example, many states require potential voters to have a driver’s license, which many young people, particularly in urban areas, do not have (The New York Times).
This year, several outside organizations are working to ensure that young people do vote, going so far as to publish videos explaining voters’ rights and teaching how one can fill out a ballot. Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan organization, conducted “Democracy Class” in high schools across the country to educate young students about the history of democracy, or lack thereof, in America and (pre-)registering young voters. Dosomething.org sent out emails and texts reminding young people to vote. Planned Parenthood, NextGen America and Alliance for Youth Action invested six figures to distribute voting guides across America before Election Day. NextGen America previously spent $4 million on ads encouraging young people to vote (The New York Times).
Organizations across America work tirelessly to ensure that young people visit the polls. Yet, when mass media broadcasts altright dialogue and actions more often than the protests and efforts of liberals—when, in fact, the alt-right makes up a small minority of voters—hope seems futile.
In reality, however, young voters have more power than they realize. In the 2012 elections, 60 percent of young voters voted Democrat, versus the 37 percent who voted Republican. In 2016, 55 percent voted for Clinton, while 37 percent voted for Trump. Only half of eligible young voters voted in 2016, and approximately 19 percent of their total votes counted. If every single eligible young person had voted, they would account for approximately 40 percent of the total ballots turned in. Although democracy is decidedly absent from the election, Congress remains dependent on America’s voters. The elections this past Tuesday proved crucial for the future of America. Hopefully, the youth has cast their votes.