With the 2012 presidential election around the corner, the political season is reaching a fever pitch. The debates and disagreements between the Republican and Democratic Party are more divisive and aggressive than ever. Now is the perfect time to be politically engaged, yet so few people are voting, speaking out, or even staying educated on the issues.
Times have changed significantly since the 19th and 20th centuries, when people of all backgrounds and ages were advocates in historic movements, such as the women’s suffrage and Civil Rights movements. We now live in a society where politics has become largely a game of rhetoric and name-calling, a divided arena unmoved by calls for collaboration and synergy. The middle- and lower-class groups of our nation have become a focal point in politics today because they are the biggest demographic and a growing voice in our country. But we still need to see more people — especially young people — from these groups become politically engaged.
I was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, a poor city in the Rio Grande Valley where I’ve recently been having casual conversations about politics. Despite the high level of poverty in the city, most people I talked to were passively disgruntled at the political system rather than engaged, educated and active with the system. Most could not even name their city’s mayor. But it seemed the reason for such low civic engagement was not because of the city’s poverty level, education system or even the lack of economic growth and opportunity, but rather because of people’s lack of confidence in the system. This led to utter apathy — especially among most of the youth in economically challenged communities across the country.
Political apathy seems to be most prevalent in the country’s younger demographic, about 18 to 30 years of age — also known as the Millennial Generation. Understanding the reason behind this apathy is crucial to improving political engagement, and there are a number of factors to consider: not growing up in a politically engaged home, a lack of education on the impact policy had on them as individuals or a lack of understanding about how they could make a difference.
Most people have claimed they don’t want to bother with politics because they feel their voice doesn’t matter to their elected officials. They believe that because they don’t have a lot of money or power that their voice wouldn’t make any difference. And it is this very misconception that prolongs the cycle of apathy and low voter turnout from this demographic, leaving elected officials less aware of their opinions and concerns.
Too many people claim they do not have the power, the money or the voice to make any real impact or change in politics. But the good news is that we all truly do have the power to make a change. If we are the future, we can mold what the political system will look like. And you can start by voting this election.
Every person needs to realize their elected officials’ purpose is to properly represent their constituents. If voters — specifically the 18- to 30-year-old voting bloc — realize their potential voice and follow their civic duty to vote and be politically engaged, then elected officials will more properly represent their constituency. This is how the cycle of apathy will change.
I believe that if Millenials become more politically engaged our elected officials will more highly regard our voice. This hope requires an integrated and cohesive effort between the community, elected officials and universities.
The University of Texas at Austin is home to a diverse student body from all different backgrounds, communities and socioeconomic levels. So my challenge to everyone, no matter what your story may be, is to vote, be civically engaged and voice your opinions to your elected officials. The Millenial Generation will be tomorrow’s leaders. It is up to us to decide what our future will look like.
Paulina Sosa is a senior majoring in philosophy and psychology at The University of Texas at Austin. She has held several internships in the political realm and is currently president of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Citizen Scholars. She also serves as Congressional District Leader for the ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty advocacy group that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. After graduating she plans to pursue a master in public health degree.