This morning, I caught the end of a segment on CNN where a young activist named Noah Gray was talking about the youth vote. He founded The Virgin Voting Project, which seeks to inspire young people to register and exercise their right to vote:
The Virgin Voting Project is a nonpartisan, educational organization dedicated to motivating young people to exercise their constitutional rights to vote in U.S elections. Our programs and campaigns are aimed at newly eligible young voters in addition to those young Americans who will soon be eligible to vote. Through web-based educational content, the Virgin Voting Project is dedicated to helping young people prepare to make informed choices about candidates and issues important to them without promoting any one candidate, issue, or viewpoint.
Gray discussed the issues that young people are worried about, primarily the student loan crisis. He reflected on former President Bill Clinton’s address at the Democratic National Convention and was thankful that Clinton included statistics on the college dropout rates in America (which corresponds with the unbelievable cost of higher education). Towards the end of the interview, the CNN anchor asked Gray to speak about the television viewing habits of young people and how it correlates to their lack of civic engagement, recalling a claim that the ratings for the Republican National Convention were trumped by Toddlers and Tiaras. Gray said that it’s a sign that young people need to be involved in political discourse and that people in the government need to work harder to include issues faced by American youths into the forefront of their campaigns. I thought Gray’s response was excellent, but wondered why America’s love for a silly reality show was supposed to solely reflect teenagers, when the major TV demographic that watches is 18-49. That’s a pretty big range of ages. I’m in that demo and I have never watched the show. I also didn’t watch much of the RNC coverage, but that’s because every speech that I did hear was filled with so much condescension and so many lies, that I couldn’t bear to watch. Especially last Thursday, when Mitt Romney went in to accept his party’s nomination for president. That was the day I found out that I was out of a job, so I really wasn’t interested in sitting through Romney’s speech.
This afternoon, I was listening to my favorite local radio station and there was a mention of MTV’s Video Music Awards show. The network decided to move up the time of the show so that it wouldn’t conflict with President Obama’s speech at the DNC. The DJ made a little quip, saying that he didn’t realize that the people who watch MTV are the same people who choose to watch political conventions.
And fine, I get that. Statistics have shown that young people don’t vote as much as they could (and should), but do we really need to to let a person’s enjoyment of trashy television or Justin Beiber serve as an indication of their political involvement? I loved MTV back in the days that they actually played music videos (I sound like the “Get off my lawn!” grandpa and I’m okay with that), and I was involved in politics. I read articles and watched the news and had many a talk with my parents and peers about what was happening in our country and in the world. This was before I could even vote. I have voted in every presidential election since I was 18 and I know that I’m not the only one. I remember watching Barack Obama, then a senator from Illinois, deliver the keynote speech at the 2004 DNC and how his speech made me even more excited to vote. I cared then and I care now.
I’m a 26 year old unemployed teacher. I took out over $30,000 in student loans to cover my grad school expenses alone. I have just applied for my third unemployment deferment since I became eligible to start paying them back (as soon as my full time employment began at my previous position, I had the payments turned back on and I plan to do the same this time around). I have watched coverage of the DNC every night. I’m a registered voter.
I’m also a huge fan of social media. I identify myself as a “fangirl.” I watch and adore MTV’s Teen Wolf series. I think robots and zombies are awesome. And you know what else? I watched an episode of that Kardashian show and I liked it! I even liked the one about the eldest Jonas boy! That doesn’t make me stupid. Those are all just parts of who I am. And I’m probably going to switch between the VMA’s and the DNC. Why? Because I want to see Green Day perform. So there.
Instead of just assuming that young people (I don’t know if I’m allowed to count myself in that bracket…maybe I’m just in denial about my age?) don’t care and won’t watch political coverage, why don’t we set that bar for them? Why don’t we as educators, parents, community leaders, and general citizens of this country show young people why it’s important to vote? Why don’t we give them more opportunities to talk about what they care about? Let them speak and connect it to policies being discussed at these conventions! ENGAGE YOUR CHILDREN.
Politicians? Show young people that they matter! As Noah Gray stated in a recent op-ed piece, “My generation feels disengaged; I feel disengaged. The news media doesn’t cater to us, the candidates don’t cater to us, and the campaign dollars aren’t spent on us. Hollywood targets my generation; Washington does not.” Target young people. Educate young people. They are our future. I am your future. Show me that you give a damn about what I’m going through. Show me that you think of me as someone worth speaking to. If you condescend to young people, they will shut you down. Talk to them, not at them.
I can think of at least one activity for each major discipline in school that you could use to talk about the voting and the government:
• English: Presenting students with a dystopian society in a book and comparing/contrasting it with our society. In a lot of these stories, the general population does not have a say in government matters, but hey…we do!
• Social Studies: The history of our right to vote. Showcase how hard people have fought (and are still fighting) to be able to do this! Read and discuss current events at the beginning of every class!
• Math: Track voting stats by plotting and graphing the number of citizens who vote. Analyze data! Find out which state has the highest number of voters!
• Science: Maybe a biology lesson? A study of women’s reproductive systems and how they can’t actually suss out love sperm from rape sperm from forcible rape sperm. A lesson that Todd Akin certainly didn’t learn.
Not to say that teachers aren’t already doing these things. I’m sure they are. Maybe not the last one. My point is, young people can active in politics, but you can’t completely fault them for being disillusioned by the entire process.
Conventions are a tough sell for most people, not just young folks. Maybe there needs to be more of a social media push. More short clips being released on youtube. Twitter blasts. Tumblr posts. They exist, but perhaps there aren’t enough of them. And if kids are watching the VMAs tonight, that’s okay. Maybe artists at the show will remind viewers about the election. God, I hope so.
Regardless of how much shiny and flashy things seem to appeal to young people, I’d prefer not to think that they’re all brainless fools sitting at their computers or by their televisions. I believe that we should have more hope than that. Don’t assume that young people don’t care.
Challenge them to think.
Challenge them to do better.
Challenge them to get involved.
It’s not too late.
Tags: barack obama, bill clinton, cnn, community, democratic national convention, democrats, education, equality, justin beiber, mitt romney, mtv, news, noah gray, politics, president barack obama, president bill clinton, republican national convention, republicans, student debt crisis, student loans, teen wolf, teenagers, toddlers and tiaras, unemployment, video music awards, virgin voters, vmas, vote, voter registration, voting, women's rights, youth vote