Stop Calling Us Lazy, Stop Discouraging Us From Voting
By Ashley Spillane, President of Rock the Vote
At parties, in cabs, on airplanes – wherever and whenever there is small talk to be made, people ask what I do for a living. When I tell them I work for a non-profit that encourages young people to vote, the response is oftentimes not only incredibly disappointing but also alarming.
A Fox News host recently summed up what I hear all too often and posed the question that stuns me every time someone asks it: “Do we really want young people to vote if they don’t know the issues?”
It’s a seemingly harmless question, and I’ve heard plenty of friends, colleagues, and strangers make it. But I’m taken aback every time I hear this condescending presumption that young people are lazy, stupid, and not paying attention.
I can’t and won’t speak on behalf of all Millennials, but those that I know are smart, passionate, informed, and extremely innovative – often trying to change things for the better. As a whole, we are also extremely curious and, having grown up as digital natives, not shy about sharing our opinions with others, especially on social media. The majority feels optimistic about our future, committed to changing the world for the better, and motivated by causes and issues.
At the same time, we are incredibly frustrated. As a result of partisan gridlock and bickering, we don’t affiliate as strongly with political parties as previous generations have. Our faith in government institutions is at an all-time low. According to a Harvard Institute of Politics survey conducted earlier this year, despite our deep passion about a variety of issues and values, only 23% of Millennials were interested in voting in the 2014 Midterm Elections.
There is clearly a disconnect between our passion for certain issues and our electoral participation. But there should be no question that engaging, educating, and encouraging young people to participate in our democracy – the one that is supposed to be representative of our entire population – is a good thing.
That’s why Rock the Vote developed a music video last week starring Lil Jon, Whoopi Goldberg, and Lena Dunham and a host of other celebrities that has gone viral and garnered more than seven million views in the first week. A play on the platinum party anthem, the video asks young people a simple but essential question: “Turn out for what?” The objective was to create a dialogue with young people and put them on alert – it’s not enough to be passionate about an issue; every young person needs to turn out and make their voice on that issue heard.
The message in this video is simple, as is my message to my friends and peers: despite your frustration, you have to show up and vote. If you think the system is broken, vote. Put politicians on notice that they need to fix it. Let them know that we are paying attention and that we demand they do the same to us. By not turning out to vote, you’re broadcasting the message that you are fine with the way things are – totally cool having someone else speak for you. By being indifferent and opting out of the system, you’re saying you don’t care how much you pay in taxes, what happens to the environment, whether we go to war, how much student loan interest rates will be, or whether someone can carry an assault rifle in a public place.
With a magazine think piece on Millennials running every week, if not daily, it is high time to prove the cynics and critics wrong. We have our national spotlight, and it is our moment to put the passion, humor, ingenuity, and outspokenness that our generation is known for to great use. Let’s show the country that Millennials not only comprise our nation’s most influential consumer bloc but also a powerful voting bloc that demands – and deserves – to be heard.