Voting Altruism: Shouting for the Silenced

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This was originally posted on my Think profile for Street Team '08 at streetteam08.com:

U.S. citizen youth vote for more than themselves, they vote for the betterment of others. When it comes to issues like income inequality, social stratification, the environment, human rights, and multilateral foreign policy, looking out for the people around us is high on our generation’s list of priorities. Voting altruism is a revolutionary idea. Voting selflessly, not selfishly, might even seem counterintuitive. But in a flat world strange things start to make a lot of sense. 

After

taking the past week to research and reflect on a theme that should characterize my reporting over the next 11 months, I thought this whole concept of voting altruism might be a good one.  That doesn't mean I'm setting it in stone. 

The strength of new media and the whole web 2.0 movement is that there is that there is more knowledge in collaboration than I could ever hope to amass myself. Multiple voices and collective strength is the only thing that's going to make my task of covering Massachusetts youth alone even remotely possible. 

Working together to seek truth means that everyone has to be generous with their feedback on my page, and that I have to be willing to listen and even admit when I'm wrong about something when different voices bring it up.   My Think profile is an open book where Massachusetts youth can highlight the things that matter to them.  Start writing.

I'll start by admitting that I've already made a mistake.  On January 3 the Boston Herald quoted me saying, "I'm going to be a one man media outlet for Massachusetts youth."  During my interview with the wonderful Jessica Heslam, I was trying to allude to the fact that Street Team members will be producing multiple types of media: visual, audio, and written.

While it's probably not a big deal, I just want to state for the record that I didn't mean to portray myself as the voice for Massachusetts youth.  In fact, it is the participation of the Massachusetts youth in this citizen journalism experiment that is going to make or break my reporting.  So, just in case I haven't been emphatic enough already: get heard.

2008 is the year of the youth vote.  The Business Week article I have open in front of me calls it a "Youthquake". 

It's a completely different picture from the one that was being painted just a few years ago.  Coming into the new millennium the youth vote wasn't even a blip on the radars of politicians.  The outlook was so bleak after the 1998 all-time low in youth turnout that the Center for Voting and Democracy and the Midwest Democracy Center started an essay contest asking young people the question, "Why Don't We Vote?".  The Carnegie Report said of the 2000 youth vote, "They'd Rather Volunteer."  In September of 2002, the Center for Immigration and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reported "Youth Voter Turnout Has Declined, by Any Measure."  As late as 2004 columnists were writing "The Youth Vote: It Didn't Rock."

But a strange thing happened leading up to the 2004 election.  Youth were being brought into the political conversation.  Instead of yelling at youth in a different language that didn't even reach their ears, politicians and grassroots organizations starting engaging youth on their level.  The research has shown that if "you work the youth vote, it works", and it had dramatic impacts on the 2004 and 2006 elections.  In 2004, 20.1 million 18-29 year olds voted.  4.3 million more than in 2000.  In 2006 youth cast 1.9 million more votes than they did in 2002 and were the defining factor in many local and state elections, bringing us to 2008, the year of the youth vote. 

Youth have already had an impact in the 2008 elections.  Youth voters received much of the credit for Democrat Barack Obama's decisive win in the Iowa Caucus's.  John McCain rode the youth voter wave to win the Republican primary in New Hampshire.  Let's not forget Republican / Libertarian Ron Paul and the buzz he's been able to stir with his youthful supporters.  You'd expect that politicians would welcome this surge of young people participating in the nation's democracy, but that hasn't always been the case. 

Politicians play nice with youth voters when they don't make an impact, but things get nasty as soon as they start changing things.  When it became clear that college students that were coming to school from other states were going to have a huge impact on the Iowa caucuses, leading Democrats called foul. Youth-organizing guru Michael Connery of futuremajority.com went so far as to say that journalists and politicians were advocating voter disenfranchisement.  InsideHigherEd.com characterized the incident within a broader context as an "Attack on Student Voting Rights."  Politicians only want youth to vote if they vote for them.  Fortunately, that's not the way democracy works. 

The whole point of this conversation is to say that for decades people have been saying the the youth vote doesn't matter.  For years youth weren't even brought into the political conversation.  When the youth vote finally does start having an impact, there is active opposition to their democratic participation.  The 2004 and 2006 elections have shown that the youth vote does matter, and all indicators suggest that in 2008 the youth vote will be stronger than ever before.  When young people do go to the ballot box, they understand that their vote counts for more than themselves.

As the world becomes increasingly flat, a democratic paradox is surfacing.  In a world where national boundaries don't have the same relevance as they did before, the youth vote can decide more than just the direction of the U.S. it can decide the direction the globe is going in.  Democratic experiments are being exported around the world but something strange is happening and youth voters articulate it at the ballot box better than anyone else does.  The people affected by the governments we elect don't always get a say in the policies that drastically affect their lives, and if they do they aren't able to speak loud enough.  In other words, the people affected by the world's politicians don't always get a say in who leads them.  It's the opposite of rule by the people.  It's a democratic paradox.

It is young people that have made the genocide in Darfur a national issue, and it was a student-driven divestment campaign that put it on the map.  A report by the New Politics Institute (NPI) defines the Progressive Politics of Millennial Generation, or our generation, by the fact that we care about things like global warming, human rights, and multilateral foreign policy.  According to NPI:

Millennials show deep concern for today's income inequalities and social stratification, and it is possible that looking out for everyone in society may emerge as their mission.

So while I hope to cover local news here in Massachusetts I also hope to cover them in the context of the broader global issues that youth deeply care about.  And it's not only the globally silenced that youth care about, they care about the marginalized within the U.S. as well and organize in strong opposition to racism, nativism, sexism, classism, and all the other isms that are used to keep people down.

Some would argue that it doesn't make sense to vote in the interests of others, but youth have it figured out.  By helping everyone else out we help ourselves.  Voting altruism and in the long-term interests of everyone is better than voting at the whim of our short-term self-interest.  2008 is the beginning of the millennial revolution and the only thing youth have to do to bring about that change is to be themselves and make their voices heard.


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4 Comments

yave begnet said:

I hope that young people vote this year, because I think that would help push our foreign policy and immigration policy forward in progressive ways. But I worry that with the coming recession, the politics of fear may prevail again, and voters could choose the "safe" candidate rather than the candidate of change. I'm not as worried that a Republican will win as I am that Clinton will win--I like Obama better as the candidate who didn't support the Iraq War and who understands from personal experience how families often spill out over and across arbitrary borders. I don't see Clinton as the candidate for change, and change is what we need.

yave begnet said:

Clarifying that when I said "I'm not as worried that a Republican will win as I am that Clinton will win," I mean that I don't think a Republican will win regardless of who is nominated on either side. As the more progressive candidate, I would support Clinton over any of the GOP candidates.

Great post! I thought you might be interested in a political post for millennials at my blog at http://www.twentyset.com/political-prompts-millennials. You have some nice stuff here that would add to the conversation.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on January 19, 2008 10:26 PM.

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