It’s too true that we can only appreciate something once we’ve lost it. I’m talking about voting and I’m talking about my generation.
As young Americans (cue the David Bowie song – thought: maybe I don’t belong in my generation?) I was expecting extreme campaigning and political activism on campus. I go to a school that at one point earned the moniker Berkeley East. Sadly, in 2012, voter registration is just too laborious of a process for students to care.
As young Jewish Americans in particular, we ought to appreciate the privilege of voting. It wasn’t all too long ago that we, as Jews, were disempowered political subjects. The position we now hold in American society is historically unrivaled. Yet my generation, which has never known true loss or disempowerment, hardly cares.
Returning to campus this semester, I was expecting a spirited Kulturkampf between traditional conservative ideals, and lefty, Obama-loving, liberalism. Instead, what I found was an apparent universal tacit agreement not to care.
So I ask my contemporary coreligionists: What’s keeping you from caring? Polling suggests that voter turnout will be lower for our generation than almost all others. Is it that the issues are unimportant to you?
Personally, I can’t wait to vote. Isn’t it thrilling? As late teens and young twenty-somethings, we are finally able to actively participate in democracy. We, as mere college students, can express our citizenship and cast a ballot. We will influence the direction our nation will take. Just think about all the issues: national health care, the economy, foreign policy. Can you wait to get into that voting booth? I know I can’t.
Cue the skepticism: Your vote doesn’t count. We live in a blue state. The Electoral College abnegates the significance of our votes. Our democratic system is fundamentally inept.
These criticisms are common and can dampen anyone’s enthusiasm about participating in democracy. But while this skeptical mindset seems to carry significant sway on many campuses, I want to push back against it and offer a few reasons why voting is entirely meaningful.
We can think about the significance of casting a ballot in two ways: materially and symbolically. Materially, on a literal level: No one ever said that you have the right to determine who the next president will be. What is your right? You have the right to play a role in a larger calculus that determines the outcome. There is a difference there. We are guaranteed the right to have the potential to influence local and national politics. That’s significant.
Thinking that your vote only matters if it is the sole determinative factor of the outcome is solipsistic and misguided. With such an unrealistic standard, it’s no surprise ignorant people stay home on Election Day.
Further, symbolically, by voting for either Obama or Romney, you are not only affirming and participating in democracy, but expressing something about yourself as well. What you think our national priorities should be says a lot about your own values. Should we invest in clean energy or focus on the rights of people overseas to have peaceful lives, free of oppression? Does a woman’s right to control her own body, to get an abortion if she so chooses, matter to you? If so, then get in that voting booth!
I don’t think that you have to be an uber-nationalist or naive proponent of democracy to find these issues important. Once you’ve come that far, acknowledging that your vote is meaningful is the next step. Plus, as abstract and foreign as the issues may seem many are in fact pressing and imminently related to our lives. Whether it is Israel or the government’s role in education, being a one-issue voter is better than being no voter at all.
What are you saying if you choose not to vote? You are saying that you don’t really care about the history which has gotten us to where we are today. Remember that we enjoy a unique privilege in the scope of history and the world. As Jews in particular, it isn’t all that entrenched or common, from either a historical lens or a modern global perspective, that we should be treated and protected like any other citizen. Don’t take your rights, or your opportunity to play a part in national politics, for granted. That’s the most surefire way to lost them.
Michael Snow is a junior at Binghamton University where he is studying philosophy, English and Judaic Studies.