Young people have endured a lot this year. At what is supposed to be the most exciting and promising time in our lives, so much turmoil has brought everything to a screeching halt. The pandemic has upended our high school, collegiate, and professional careers, and it has forced us to alter the life plans that we prepared. We have also witnessed the cruelest acts of racism across the nation and have stepped up to fight for racial equity on social media and at socially distanced protests.
Fortunately, the recent 2020 election presented the opportunity for 18 to 29-year-olds to use their right to vote and decide the future of our country. It is such a valuable privilege, and never has the vote felt more consequential. Issues such as healthcare, the racial wealth gap, student debt, and career outlook have immense impacts on our futures, especially now. Many of us have fought for the change we wish to see, but we must address the massive elephant in the room: Young people just do not vote. The question is, why?
I am currently a high school junior in Durham. While I was not old enough to vote this November, I worked for progressive political action locally and nationally by phone and text banking, holding voter registration drives, and organizing discussions with officials such as Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.
Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reported that 53 to 56 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 29 voted in this presidential election, which was around 10 percent higher than in 2016. This development is encouraging, but there is still a serious discrepancy between the number of young people that can and do vote. Over the past several months, I’ve been trying to understand youth voter turnout. I want to share what I have learned so far.
As a young person, one of the most frustrating misconceptions is that we do not care about politics. Adults too quickly dismiss our inaction for indifference. The truth is that we have an immense amount of passion, especially for social issues such as climate change, gun control, and racial equity that directly affect our lives and futures.
However, many of us feel jaded and disenfranchised by a system that was created by the wealthy and powerful and continues to ignore struggling communities. With a judicial and legislative system stacked against progressive change, a single vote can feel insignificant. A frustrating number of candidates simply adhere to this unjust system as it is and do not seek to change it in any significant way.
In addition, many young people feel that voting is so complicated that it isn’t worth their time. Voters have to know where they will be during voting, choose their form of voting, and know where to go to the polls or drop off their ballot. Simple enough, right? Not for young people, who often balance jobs, school, family life, and other interests.
Many states also abuse their power in determining voting regulations. Specifically, in Southern and rural areas, there is an immense amount of voter suppression, such as requiring specialized school IDs, proof of school enrollment, and proof of residency, not to mention long lines due to inadequate public infrastructure. All of these complications can make voting feel like too much effort.
In many ways, the 2020 election was a showcase for why young people feel so jaded. Joe Biden’s victory seemed like the bare minimum for people concerned with progressive platforms. In North Carolina, it was disappointing to see our state go red for President Donald Trump once again, due to the constant lying and abuse we have endured for four years. These results were very difficult for me to digest, because I had been volunteering for Joe Biden’s campaign here for months, and all of my work felt inconsequential.
It was also frustrating to see Trump’s ally, Senator Thom Tillis, win re-election, but not completely surprising after Cal Cunningham carelessly jeopardized his candidacy with an affair. It now seems likely that the U.S. Senate will remain red, and the U.S. House will barely remain blue. These results indicate that it will be very difficult to pass meaningful legislation that will help people during this crisis. As progressive young people, we have reached a frustrating standstill. So where do we go from here?
For me, this election was a wake-up call: There is so much more to do to ensure that young people can fairly take advantage of their right to vote for progressive representation. I had naively thought that the paradigm would undergo a major shift in this election, but that was not to be. Change takes time and persistence.
At this point, we must work toward action. Two pivotal Senate races are going into runoffs in Georgia, and there are also many more races coming up in 2022 (including another U.S. Senate race in North Carolina!). These upcoming races are exciting opportunities to enact more change in our state and the country.
While it is hard to feel empowered to vote when there is so much working against many of us, we must fight on. We need to use the injustices in our system as even more motivation to get involved. There is so much work to do on the local and federal levels to improve voting accessibility and equalize the system.
We must also continue to inspire others in our close communities to visualize a more equitable, progressive future. If we can make it easier to vote and connect with people about why their vote can make a difference, we can change the paradigm. With nearly 40 percent of young people not using their right to vote, there is plenty of space for improvement.
Edward Rogers is a high-school junior at Durham Academy.
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Well that was one gigantic mass of self indulgence and privilege powered self involvement. Someone definitely has an “I Love Me” wall at home. Or maybe all of his homes…. Kids have had in hard in 2020? What’s the matter cupcake, did DA stop serving scones as a nod to pandemic protection? Honestly, it would take a high school junior to write something so self absorbed and clueless to the problems facing people who have actual responsibilities in their lives and instead of regurgitating, poorly, the MSNBC talking points. Try having some responsibilities and accountabilities to others people before you presume to lecture to the rest of us.
Progressives failed in NC and largely nationwide because they could only bring platitudes and not plans to the table. “a progressive and more equitable future” what does that even mean? How a child of privilege who attends a highly competitive and expensive school can, in the same breath, decry the lack of equitable outcomes only speaks to a deep gap between objective reality and an actual appreciation for the unearned position of opportunity that he currently occupies. This is more of an example of how the elites feel the need to take on the burden of associating with the masses in order to lecture everyone as to what their collective self interests are and are not. There was not one shred of actionable call for change and what the benefits are. Just blame…. blame white people, blame corporations, blame the south, blame, blame blame….
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