Youth Voting Does Not a Movement Make

Pacific News Service, Youth Commentary, Published: November 4, 2004 

Editor’s Note: Overall youth voter turnout was up in an election that saw more Americans go to the polls. But as a percentage of the total vote, the youth vote didn’t budge — and many young voters chose Bush. PNS contributor Russell Morse, 23, sees youths inching toward a political identity most politicos just can’t grasp.

I’ve spent the past year focusing almost exclusively on the role of young people in this presidential election, and I didn’t learn anything until Bush delivered his victory speech. That’s when I realized that a victory for Kerry on the heels of a massive youth voter turnout would have killed any hope for a viable movement of young people in America.

On Tuesday night, as the election coverage dragged on and it became clear that W would put this one in his pocket, a graying Democratic pollster tried to spin the non-impact of the youth vote into a “wait till next time” scenario. She acknowledged the efforts and enthusiasm of organizations like Rock the Vote, Punk Voter, “Vote or Die” and said that America was witnessing “the creation of a new political generation.” Well, this Prius-driving Democratic spokesperson may have secured a talking head spot on PBS, but she missed the mark.

This political generation wasn’t created. It evolved as we witnessed crumbling towers and school-shooting carnage — tragic, fantastic spectacles that make a mohawked Puff Daddy in a “Vote or Die” T-shirt seem even more ridiculous than he actually is. It evolved as we watched the last presidential election expose an inefficient, crooked and dangerously vulnerable democracy. We’ve seen that political power comes from dramatic, sensational and violent acts, not from a punch card.

Something else to consider is the misconception that if prompted to participate, young people will vote Democratic. It’s expected that we’ll fall in line with union workers and menopausal feminists with litmus issues and party loyalty. And had we boosted John Kerry into the White House, this misconception would have been confirmed and our wad of political power would have been shot for four years of mediocrity. While it’s true that young people were backed into a corner by the boundless lunacy of our president’s policies, it obviously doesn’t mean that we were tying each other’s shoelaces together to be the first in line for Kerry.

A couple weeks ago, Eminem released a music video for his song “Mosh,” a political diatribe against the president. The video featured computer animated images of a young man being sent to fight in Iraq, a young woman evicted from her home as reports of Bush’s tax cuts flashed on her television and an army of hooded, angry and multicultural young people marching on the White House.

Eminem does a sound job of reflecting the concerns of young America with (mostly) articulate, intelligent lyrics — and then he missteps. As the young rainbow coalition mob fights past the secret service and makes it into the White House, they form a line and register to vote. Forget for a second that the video aired after the deadline to register, and consider that the violent, angry and unpredictable Eminem led a legion of furious young people into Bush’s house so they could. . . fill out a form. That’s like storming the Bastille for a visitor’s pass.

Em’s video, along with the youth voter drive led by organizations like Rock the Vote, had the same impact and success as commercials on daytime television — if you’re fat, broke, or unemployed enough and you don’t know what to do about it, you’ll eventually give in and get the Bowflex, apply for a high interest credit card or go to massage therapy school. If you’re baffled enough by the spiraling madness of Bush’s America, you’ll shrug and put a Kerry button on your JanSport. A number of young people did that. But it does not qualify as the creation of a political generation.

I’m not saying that young people shouldn’t vote. I’m saying that young people are inching toward a political identity by yearning for a voice that isn’t limited to voting once every four years or being ignored by a party that takes us for granted. I know few of us are looking forward to 2008, when we’ll have to endure Arnold Schwarzenegger calling Hilary Clinton a “manly girl” before sweeping the electoral college.

Ultimately, though, we have to consider that the result of this election has hastened the Apocalypse. When the bombs start dropping and we’re eating baked beans out of the can in an underground parking structure for the next 10,000 years, we’ll all be yearning for a simpler world, where Bruce Springsteen and the Black Eyed Peas could collaborate on a campaign song for Hilary.

Morse is an associate editor of YO! Youth Outlook Magazine (www.youthoutlook.org), a magazine by and for Bay Area youths and a PNS project.

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