Source: Wikimedia Commons
Four years ago, President Obama was elected, at least in part, because he was able to generate excitement among young voters. In fact, in 2008, some 84% of young people who were registered to vote actually did vote. But recently, I’ve noticed growing apathy among some in my social media circle. While I can’t be certain that my facebook “friends” are representative of today’s young people, this trend on my newsfeed has caused me some concern. Gallup polls also indicate that young people are reporting a lower likelihood of voting in this election than in previous ones. Not good.
Voting is one of our most important rights. That should be reason enough to vote, to protect a fundamental freedom that many have fought for. The year 1869—that’s when black men got the right to vote. It’s been less than a century since women secured the right to vote. Less than 50 years ago, Congress declared poll taxes unconstitutional, removing limitations on poor people’s ability to exercise their voting rights. It has been a long road, but voting rights are now a reality for most American citizens (though, admittedly, there are still serious flaws in our system). And now, instead of seizing that right in significant numbers, my generation is thinking about saying NO to voting. Here’s the explanation I’ve heard from friends: “Why should I vote when my choices are both bad?” “What’s the point of voting, it’s all corrupt.” “If we don’t participate in this flawed system, we can send a message that we want it to change.” “How do I pick the lesser of two evils?”
I understand people’s disappointment and their desire for something different. But not voting is a privileged action, not a revolutionary one. What do I mean by privileged? I mean that the option of not voting is only viable if you have a certain amount of power in our society. Generally speaking, not voting might seem like an option to middle (and upper) class, white, heterosexual, American-born men. For them, the election may not seem particularly important; their rights, power and social visibility aren’t particularly threatened by any elected official. So I’m beginning a list of people who don’t have that privilege, whose freedoms, rights, livelihoods, and maybe even their actual lives, depend on the outcomes of elections. Perhaps if you’re considering not voting, you’ll think of these groups and change your mind.
- Poor people. The outcome of this and any election will have major ramifications for people living in poverty. Cuts in social services, programs for the homeless, public education, and health services can mean the difference between life and death for already impoverished people.
- Children. Children need to be educated. Elected officials will determine what kinds of funds go to schools, whether school lunch programs continue, and if teachers will be paid enough to continue in this often undervalued profession. Kids also need wellness check ups, dental care, and healthy food. Elected officials have a lot to say on these issues too.
- The LGBTQIA community. We’ve entered an era where LGBTQIA rights—to marriage, civil unions, adoption, etc.—are becoming more and more of a reality. Elected officials will play a huge role in upholding or overturning these civil rights.
- Women. Women, especially poor women and women of color, but even relatively privileged white women, are at risk of losing ground in a number of ways. Our reproductive rights, and our right to be free from violations like rape and violence, are currently at risk.
- Immigrants. Documented and undocumented immigrants are in danger of increasing harassment and violence. Elected officials will play a large part in determining what immigrant life will look like in the years to come.
- Ethnic and racial minorities. If Arizona is an indicator of anything, it is that the rights of non-white Americans are up for grabs. Their freedom to learn about their history (and for us to learn about it too), and their ability to move freely in this country without fear of police harassment will depend on the outcomes of future elections.
- People from the global south. The environmental crisis we are facing will have ramifications around the globe. Negative impacts are likely to be greatest in the poorest nations around the world. Moreover, political decisions about foreign policy (aid, humanitarian interventions, war, etc.) will have clear effects on the lives of people living outside the U.S.
I’m certain that this list isn’t exhaustive and I encourage readers to expand on it. And, in case it wasn’t already clear, I encourage readers to vote this November. Seriously, go vote.
Case, Kim A. and Jonathan Iuzzini (issue editors). 2012. Special Issue- Systems of Privilege: Intersections, Awareness, and Applications. Journal of Social Issues 68(1).
Perrin, Andrew J. and Katherine McFarland. 2008. The Sociology of Political Representation and Deliberation. Sociology Compass 2(4): 1228-1244.