Columns » Trouble Hunter

Just vote, dammit

The primary focus

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"I'm probably not going to vote. It's just not exciting like it was last time with Obama."

These words were uttered to me last Saturday by my best friend. I was sad, but not surprised. I'd heard the same sentiment a day earlier from a co-worker.

As Millennials (despite the fact those of us at the upper end of the generational divide are now in our mid-30s) we still can't get our asses to the polls.

We're the bandwagon fans of politics; not tuning in to the regular season games, but showing up for the Super Bowl to see the superstar quarterback dab in the end zone.

What really sucks about hearing young people say they're not voting is that ours is a state where they can have the most impact.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) recently ranked North Carolina ninth in the country for states where the young vote could be most impactful.

North Carolina is a swing state in terms of the presidential election, the outcome of which will likely decide the make-up of the Supreme Court. This alone will shape the direction of the country for decades to come. We're also in one of a handful of states that could give the Senate majority back to the Democrats.

And yet, the enthusiasm eludes us.

"We don't really know how any of this works," said Chelsea Brierton, a 25-year-old undecided N.C. voter I asked to weigh in on wtf our problem is.

"I took Civics in high school, but it didn't cover the primary process and super delegates. We don't know any candidates except the crazy ones. All the coverage is about Trump," she said. "Plus, we don't feel like our vote has an impact. Lobbyists have so much more power than people do to affect change. Our system is broken."

Our system is broken, but we are the only ones who have the potential to fix it.

North Carolina's ranking in the CIRCLE report was mostly due to how sharply the younger voters in our state contrast with the old. In 2008, 75 percent of voters under 30 voted for President Obama. Every other age group preferred McCain. The youth (especially black youth) turnout that year was enough to swing what was thought to be our solidly-red state into a Democratic win.

The Republicans in our state legislature took note. They rolled back policies that facilitated the young and mnority vote: same-day registration, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and early voting days. They also gerrymandered the hell out of our districts to keep themselves safe (see pg. 10). If our votes don't have an impact, somebody go tell the guys in Raleigh, because they're doing everything they can to stop us.

Our generation is the most populous in America as of last year, and it's the most diverse generation in American history. In North Carolina, 23 percent of young voters are black. Nationwide, 50 percent of Latinos eligible to vote are Millennials.

Our generation is most affected by the persistence of institutional racism and failure to pass immigration reform. We've been the hardest hit by the recession and skyrocketing student loan debt. We are the first generation not doing better than our parents. Our children are the ones who will suffer the most from attending underfunded schools and pay for our continued dependence on fossil fuels and lawmakers' failure to act on climate change.

Politicians benefitting from the status quo are not affected by its negative consequences. They will have mostly died off before many of the dangerous seeds they've sown come to fruition, and so will the constituents who reliably vote them into power. Why would they give a damn about our issues and our children's future? We don't vote, so they are unaccountable to us.

The only way to make them care is to vote. And not just in the Super Bowl of elections; we have to vote in primaries, mid-terms and local elections too. If we can camp outside of City Hall for a month to protest income inequality, we can show up to our polling place once every two years and vote for candidates who support Wall Street regulation. If we think institutional racism is important enough to stop highway traffic, we should think it's important enough to stop anyone running for office who disagrees.

All it takes is attention, persistence and organization by young North Carolina voters, and we could change the trajectory of America. But, if we want a revolution, we have to vote for it.

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