Young people set the agenda for American politics in the 1960s. From the civil rights movement to protesting the Vietnam War, young people made their voices heard and achieved their political goals. In order for our generation to have the same impact, young people have to vote. Political commentators have been deriding young voters throughout this election cycle. First, young peoples’ support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s was deemed “unrealistic,” and now young people are accused of potentially costing former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the election by voting for third party candidates. While this claim has been shown to be overblown, our generation could still hand Republican nominee Donald Trump the presidency by failing to turn out to vote.
I want everyone to vote in this election—even my Trump-supporting friends. The reason is simple: by voting, we as young people claim political power as a demographic. Under the current status quo, our concerns don’t really matter that much to any politician who can do high school level math. Only 46 percent of millennials voted in the presidential election in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. When we stay home, we allow the political establishment to continue ignoring us.
There is clear evidence that we can make major changes in the political system. This year, the Democratic Party passed the most progressive agenda in at least 60 years. Clinton supporters didn’t cause this—it was caused by the 12 million votes cast by Sanders supporters in the primaries, two million of which came from millennials. The impact we’ve had so far is stunning. In order to match the political values of former Sanders supporters, Clinton pivoted so fast that by the end of the primaries, her pantsuit was practically on backward.
From the 2016 primaries, we can see the effects of young people’s participation on the political process—and that was with most of us not voting at all. We are not even close to maximizing our possible political power, as millennials now constitute roughly 31 percent of the possible electorate in the United States. If we all voted, the political agenda in America would be far different.
If more young people voted, issues that are important to us would become important to the greater political conversation in America. For example, consider the legal drinking age. Most voters do not bear the costs of this policy, and repealing it is currently a political non-starter. But there are 13 million voters between the ages of 18 and 21 today—if we all voted, suddenly politicians and pollsters would start looking at the issues that affect us, and repealing the National Drinking Age Minimum Act could be put on the table.
We have seen the ugly side of older voters’ derision right here in Geneseo. There was a polling site on campus in 2008 and there will be one for this election, but the Geneseo Village Board got rid of it for the 2012 election.
According to March 2016 Lamron article “On student candidates’ campaigns for Village Board,” former Board Trustee Bob Wilcox suggested that students shouldn’t vote in local elections because we don’t pay property taxes. At what point does this disdain become voter suppression?
The American political system is imperfect and this election has shown us exactly how deep the discontent with the establishment runs. But the issues our country faces are more our issues than anyone else’s—we are the people who will serve if our next president takes this country to war, and we are the people who can least afford a candidate who doesn’t believe in climate change.
But the greatest issue of all is the future of our body politic. A country with 46 percent millennial voter participation isn’t a democracy. The political participation of our generation has to go beyond protesting and roasting the establishment on social media and into the realm of voting or else we will say goodbye to the freedom our founding fathers––once young people themselves––won for us.