Meagher: Student engagement, participation imperative in upcoming election

Election season is here once again, and with it comes the usual political ads, lawn signs, phone calls and debates. As Election Day quickly approaches, though, I can’t help but notice that something is missing: student awareness and involvement.

More and more students seem to be distant and disengaged from politics. Instead of tuning in to watch President Barack Obama accept his nomination, they would much rather watch the MTV Video Music Awards or “Teen Mom.” The majority of students can easily name for you the entire cast of “Jersey Shore” but they struggle with the names of their senators and representatives.

It baffles me that students are more invested in reality television than in politics and government. While students are busy watching Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi get wasted, our representatives are voting on important issues that will affect our lives, now and in the future.

In 1971 the 26th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution, thereby decreasing the voting age from 21 to 18. This amendment was a result of the millions of students, in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, who fought for their right to vote. They believed if they were old enough to fight, they were old enough to vote.

It saddens me to say this, but nowadays I am willing to bet that a good majority of students would rather have the drinking age be 18 and voting age 21.

What many students do not realize is that our voice is severely underrepresented in Congress. The youngest member of Congress is 31 years old – an entire decade older than the majority of college students. According to the Congressional Research Service’s 112th Membership Profile, the average representative is about 57 years old and the average senator around 62. These severe age gaps render those in office severely out of touch with our generation’s wants and beliefs.

In order to combat this underrepresentation, we as students must take collective action. We need to become the voice of our generation, which is absent in our government. The government makes important decisions every day that have a significant impact on our lives. The student vote is a powerful weapon, and if used collectively, it can mean the difference between a candidate winning or losing an election. If we actively voice our opinions, then our representatives will be forced to listen.

2012’s presidential election is between two candidates who have conflicting visions about the future of our country. November isn’t just about choosing between two candidates; it’s about deciding what path the U.S. will head in over the next four years.

Like former President Bill Clinton said during his speech last week at the Democratic national Convention, “If you want a winner-take-all, you’re-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we’re-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

This is going to be a pivotal election for many important issues including LGBTQ and women’s rights, student loan interest rates, health care and the economy. There are many questions to consider before voting: Should children remain on their parents’ health care until they are 26? Should women be charged extra simply because of their gender? Should government support marriage equality? Would you like a thriving economy and plenty of job opportunities when you graduate?

These are all issues affecting students and perfect examples of why it is important for them to take an active role in politics.