Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fighting Youth Apathy

In 1971, the United States Constitution was amended for the 26th time in American history. The Vietnam War had prompted unprecidented student activism which led to the amendment to lower the voting age to 18.
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
"Old enough to fight, old enough to vote" was a common slogan heard at the time, as eighteen year olds were being drafted into Vietnam with no say in matters of the country.

For more info, see History of the Eighteen Year Old Vote

Despite a new 11 million new voters as a result of the amendment, the turnout rate among this demographic was low. Our nation has maintained that trend ever since.

But we are changing that.

Over the past decade or so, Get Out The Vote efforts have seen results. The youth vote has been increasing, and we saw record voter turnout among this demographic during the primaries. Vote Today Ohio is just one of the organizations that is determined to get more young Americans involved in the fate of their country.

On September 30, Ohio opened up a week of voting that was unprecidented in the history of the state. Not only could new voters register, but they could vote on the same day.

Why is this significant? I've heard some people ask. Think about some of the problems of the 2004 election - provisional ballots were tossed out for improperly filled out registration forms or because voters were in the wrong precinct and long lines on Election Day turned some voters away. By allowing voters to fill out their registration forms and vote at the county board of elections, you've killed the provisional ballot issue, as board of elections officials can review registration forms on the spot. By allowing voters to vote all month, you are significantly reducing the lines on Election Day. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved. Well, except those candidates who benefit from keeping certain segments of voters away from the polls - like youth, African-Americans, and the poor.

My week was spent on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. That first Tuesday of what has been termed Ohio's Golden Week could have been viewed as grim in terms of fulfilling our goals. Vote Today Ohio took a mere 7 voters to the board of elections.

But there were three other groups on campus doing the same thing we were. All of us were progressive minded groups - apparently conservatives don't believe in facilitating voting rights (they believe in suppressing voting rights!) By the end of the day, we had coordinated our efforts, and our numbers improved from then on.

Our week officially began on Monday, September 29th at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall in Columbus, Ohio. Most of us had arrived in Columbus Sunday night and stayed with complete strangers - but you know? I've spent nights at the homes of complete strangers while working on campaigns, and it turns out they aren't really strangers, because we in the progressive movement share the same values, values that exist deep within ourselves, values that are an inherent part of our natures, of us. No, we aren't strangers - before we enter each other's homes, we are just friends who haven't yet met. The values we hold - the ideas that our nation is only as strong as its weakest link, that everyone should have equal opportunity, that we only have one earth that is much more fragile than we used to think, that knowledge and intellect can move this country forward - are what will get America back, that America which the whole world once admired, that America which birthed the dreams of our ancestors, that America which showed the world that when people have the power, they can do great things.

Americans from across the country - and even some friends from other parts of the globe - came to Ohio to help restore the promise of democracy. We spent Monday afternoon in training before dispersing to various parts of the state that could make Barack Obama the next president of these United States. We had a room full of incredible people, Americans who show true patriotism through their actions and sacrifices rather than through empty flagwaving.

Becky from Kentucky and James from our friend Canada were just two of several volunteers who traveled to Cincinnati to help get students to the polls. After spending the first two or three days getting the word out that UC students could, indeed, register to vote in Hamilton County, we had the whole campus not only talking about the election, but we transported a few hundred students to vote!

I am a firm believer that we must change American student culture if we as a nation are to survive as a world power. A university is a place to gain knowledge, not a place you go to get a better job. We have to end the culture of excessive drunkenness, the culture of skipping classes, the culture of sports worship and go back to the roots of education, go back to scholarship and pride in achievement. We should stop mocking intelligence and calling rationally-minded and knowledgeable people "elitist." This week I overheard one girl say she has passed every literature class she has taken without reading a single book - in a class about books! This is nothing but laziness, and laziness won't make America strong again.

Not voting and not informing one's self about the issues is also laziness, especially when organizations like Vote Today Ohio are offering FREE shuttles directly to the voting station and back. Hundreds of university students in Cincinnati fulfilled their voting duties this week, and many of them have decided to volunteer for the first time on a political campaign. Hey, as Barack Obama reminded us this week, JFK told us we would go to the moon within ten years and we did it. Getting these students involved in our country's affairs is one small step for America and one giant leap for mankind.

Students were excited about voting. Seeing their enthusiasm was inspiring. Such sites filled me with a renewed sense of hope that we can get this country back on track and not only get through this financial crisis, but that we can fundamentally change the way we run the country. Can we get America back?

Yes we can!

Here are some more photos from the week followed by a couple of reports from the week. More photos to be posted later.

Erik's story
Aharon's story

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