Each and every person has an incredible amount of power at his or her disposal. What power am I referring to? The power to vote.
While working on Capitol Hill this summer, I made an observation. What I saw may not come as a surprise, but it should come as a disappointment. What I realized is that the world of politics truly is made up of a bunch of old, white-haired geezers, who, let’s face it, no one wants to listen to.
Do you know who people want to listen to? College students.
One of the things I’ve learned as a strategic communications major is that the values that you develop while in college, and the ones you graduate with, will more than likely stay with you for the rest of you life. For example, gentlemen, if you wear Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio cologne, first of all, excellent choice, because that is a fantastic cologne. But more importantly, research shows that if you’re wearing that cologne now, there’s a very high chance you will continue to wear it for the rest of your life.
Now, apply that same principle to politics. The same research suggests that if you identify as a Republican by the time that you graduate college, you will most likely continue voting for Republicans for the rest of your life. Conversely, if you identify as a Democrat by the time you graduate college, you will most likely continue voting for Democrats for the rest of your life.
So, why does this all matter?
If you haven’t noticed, as college students, we are flooded with thousands of advertisements and messages on a daily basis. Brands and marketers specifically target college students because, in theory, we have the brightest, most knowledgeable, and yet, most malleable minds in the nation. People listen to what college students are saying because they want to pick our brains and understand what makes us tick, why we think a certain way, and they want to shape our beliefs, so that by the time we graduate, we will be eternally loyal customers, citizens, and so on.
The thing you should take away from this is that we, as college students, are in the spotlight. We have an open microphone, and everyone is listening. Unfortunately, I believe that goes to waste. We have the incredible power to affect change in our nation, but instead, we go to Wing Wednesday and say, “It’s fine, let someone else deal with that.”
There are three things that I see as astronomical issues when it comes to how our generation deals with politics. First, we do not understand why we vote for who and what we vote for. Second, we leave our votes at the ballot on Election Day. And third, many of us, sadly, do not vote at all.
I’d like to address that last issue first. Flash back to November 6th, 2012 – Election Day. I woke up that day, excited to vote in my first presidential election. The first thing I did that day was go vote. I got my little sticker that read “I Voted,” instagrammed it, of course, and the first thing that I asked everyone that day was whether or not they had voted. Later that day, I went to the library to study with one of my best friends. So of course, I asked her, “Did you vote yet?” Do you know what she did?
She laughed at me. And not in the “Erin, you’re such a dork, shut up and let me study,” type of way. She scoffed, and she told me, as if it should be obvious, “No.”
Those who truly know me know that I’m actually not one to get into political discussions that often, because as much as I believe in democracy, I believe in something another important, but forgotten concept: etiquette. I was raised never to discuss money, religion, or politics. But this wasn’t about politics; this was about a fundamental right we have as American citizens. So, when she told me, “No,” that she wasn’t going to vote, I asked her, “Why not?” I’ll never forget what she told me.
She replied, “Because I don’t care.”
The great Greek statesman, Pericles, once said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” In other words, you can ignore politics, but it won’t ignore you.
Yes, it is your constitutional right to vote, but you also have the freedom to choose not to vote, and that is your prerogative. But, should you choose not to vote, just know, that an election will happen either way, and, one way or another, the decisions made during that election will affect each and every one of you.
So, my first piece of advice for you, as college students, is to simply cast your vote.
Now, as much as I believe that each of you should vote in the upcoming election, and every election hereinafter, I also believe that you should not vote if you haven’t done your research.
At that point in the conversation with my friend, I was biting my tongue. She clearly wasn’t going to vote, and I wasn’t going to change her mind. But for whatever reason, she felt the need to continue. She told me that if she were to vote, she would have voted to reelect President Barack Obama. That’s valid. What I can’t seem to validate is her reasoning.
She told me, that she would have voted for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election because she “didn’t want to start paying for birth control.” Let that sink in.
I’m not sure whether she was so out of touch with the media that sporadically chose different parts of various news stories she might have overheard and came to this bizarre conclusion in her mind. I’m not sure if she read a satirical article on The Onion and believed it to be as credible as an article from The Wall Street Journal. Regardless of how, she had reached this conclusion, and she wholeheartedly believed that if President Barack Obama had not been reelected, she would have to start paying for birth control.
I also have friends that, during the time, told me that they were going to vote for Mitt Romney, simply because of his “binders full of women” scandal. Are these the type of misinformed factors that you want playing a role in who ultimately is elected to run our nation? To vote on our behalf? To spend our tax dollars?
The only way to prevent misinformation is for you to go out and do the research yourself. Read the news. Read reliable news. Read all types of news that come from people with differing opinions. Visit websites like votesmart.org that tell you exactly who your candidates are and what they stand for. Watch debates. Look into your candidates’ backgrounds, and don’t let arbitrary news scandals cloud your judgment. Use your university’s resources to reach out to your representatives and get to know them, because that’s exactly what they do: they are elected to represent you, the people. How can they effectively do their jobs as representatives if we don’t do ours as citizens?
That is my second point: vote smart.
A common misconception that we all have is that the election ends once you hand in your ballot. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Some may remember the bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, and so on, that became popular in the wake of the 2012 Presidential Election. They read, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Romney?” Well, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t bought a shot glass with that exact phrase on it for my dad. And as funny as it may be, it is painfully misguided.
We elect our leaders to represent and serve us. Therefore, it is our job as the citizens to hold those leaders accountable for their actions. Don’t just say that you did your part by voting. Believe in your vote. If you don’t like what your representative is doing, tell them.
If you worry that your voice won’t be heard, trust me when I promise you that it will be, even from 3,000 miles away. Sure, when you write, e-mail, or call, you might reach an intern, probably by the name of Erin Collins, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t listening. I know first-hand that Congressmen sit down with their interns and staffers to ask, “What did my constituents call about today?” “How do they want me to vote?” I know for a fact that Congressmen have put aside their own beliefs in order to vote how their constituents wanted them to vote. Believe me when I promise you that democracy is alive and well.
It would be easy for me to say that all of the negative stigmas about politics are true: that it’s just a bunch of old, white-haired geezers, that it’s corrupt beyond the point of repair. But I know that there are honest parts that remain, that we have certain freedoms and rights that no one can take away from you; like your right to vote, your right to research your candidates, and your right to hold them accountable for their actions.
Point three. Don’t let your vote die on Election Day.
What I’m talking about isn’t just hype; it’s a reality. The politicians we elect, and the decisions they make today affect real Americans tomorrow, a year from now, fifty years from now. I hate to break it to you, but in fifty years, we’re going to be those old, white-haired geezers, and just as no one wants to listen to them today, no one will want to listen to us then. If we don’t like the decisions that the politicians of today make, there’s not much we can do about it then.
That’s why it matters that we vote, vote smart, and keep our votes alive after election day. That’s why it is so important for our generation to get involved in politics now, before it’s too late.
Did you exercise your right to vote today? Tweet me pictures of yourself wearing your “I Voted” sticker and I might retweet you!