According to the most recent Census data, only 41 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18-29 voted in the 2012 election, a stark contrast from the 56 percent of voters age 30-44 or the 71 percent of voters age 60 and above. The discussion has long raged on: Why don’t millennials vote? Hundreds of answers have popped up, usually along the lines that we’re apathetic because we would rather spend an hour checking our Twitter feeds instead of checking a box on our ballot card.
But truthfully, it’s not that young people don’t vote because we only care about Twitter and Instagram or memes and Vines; it’s not that we don’t care about the future of the United States or that we’re uneducated about the issues. It’s that we’ve spent our entire voting lives being told that we’re stupid millennials whose opinions don’t matter because we’re just that, stupid millennials. In a widely shared clip from the HBO show “The Newsroom,” Jeff Daniels’ character proclaims that today’s young people are the “Worst. Generation. Ever,” and that even though it’s not our fault that America is falling behind, we should be careful if we “ever accidentally wander into a voting booth one day.”
Why would we want to express our political opinions then if we’ve spent our entire lives hearing that what we think is either wrong or that it doesn’t matter? If we’re part of the “Worst. Generation. Ever” and our thoughts are just a product of our own naivete then why bother voting at all? The millennial attitude toward voting has become a self-fulfilling prophecy: we’re told that we don’t vote because we don’t care, and because that’s all we hear we stop caring, so we don’t vote.
Jeff Daniels is wrong; we’re not the worst generation ever, but we are in one of the worst situations. We’re saddled with more student than any other generation. Our debt money is worth less than nearly ever before and we have a hell of a time making it. We’re growing up with very real and present effects of climate change. We’ve already grown up with one recession and two wars, and the political climate is more polarized and less interested in creating a viable future for our country. When we stand up against it though, we get told to sit back down. We don’t have the life experience to know what we’re talking about, after all.
The millennial generation has been chained up and locked into a chair at the political kids’ table and told not to join the adults’ conversation, and though we’ve extended our hands and asked for a turn to speak, the older generations are often not willing to let us join the discussion. Eventually, our voices get tired and we just quit trying. It’s somewhat of a lose-lose situation. We’re either the apathetic millennials who need to speak up and give a damn, or we’re the ignorant millennials who need to come back with opinions when we’re older and smarter. I believe that most millennials are ready to join the political process; it’s time for the older generations to welcome us in.
Luke Keck studies journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.