We Have A Millennial Voting Problem

This week, New York Magazine posted an article called “12 Young People on Why They Probably Won’t Vote,” that profiled a group of millennials under the age of 30 who have either never voted before, or are so fed up with politics that they won’t start now. Here are some of these millennials’ unbelievably lame excuses for neglecting their civic duty:

“I’d rather have an informed nonvoter than an uninformed voter going in and making a choice they don’t understand.”

“I have ADHD and it makes it hard for me to do certain tasks where the payoff is far off in the future or abstract. I don’t find [voting] intrinsically motivational.”

“I volunteered for Bernie Sanders…But when he folded, then immediately went and defended Hillary…that just really killed it for me.”

“[The Democrats] have not done anything. Like, they don’t stand for anything. And I just don’t see the point anymore.”

“For a while, I thought it was an immoral act to vote. It means that we’re giving our approval to a system that I totally do not want to validate.”

“In the end, if it’s not something I’m extremely passionate about, do I want to spend four hours…doing something I don’t quite want to do?”

“I didn’t have stamps.”

I don’t have time to waste unpacking the vapid leaps of logic these ill-informed malcontents make, nor am I going to validate any of their sorry excuses for not participating. Some of them have expressed remorse over their past behavior and genuinely understand that it’s important to vote, but the majority of them do not. If I could write them off as outliers, I would.

The problem is, I can’t: in a new poll from NBC, only 31% of millennials – less than a third – say that they will vote. 26% said they “probably” will vote; 23% were uncertain; 12% said they probably wouldn’t, and 7% said they definitely won’t. Even though a Harvard Institute of Politics poll this week shows increased millennial interest, it’s hard not to be alarmed by the fact that millennials, who are now as big a share of the electorate as the boomers who put Trump into office, are letting them dictate our future.

Last year I wrote about how millennials’ attitudes towards politics was partly a result of our lack of civics education, which have been cut back in public schools due to policies like No Child Left Behind, and restoring it to the curriculum could go a long way in correcting the attitudes of generations to come. But there’s something more disturbing at play here among my generation that a high school course can’t teach: despite our evolving attitudes on issues like race and misogyny, we still do not realize the immense amount of privilege we have been handed, particularly when it comes to voting.

When millennials shrug off their right to vote, remind them of “The Night of Terror,” when, in 1917, four women who had been arrested for protesting for their right to vote were tortured in prison. One of them had her hands cuffed to the bars of her jail cell; another was beaten into unconsciousness; another suffered a heart attack from fear and was denied medical care. Do they know that suffragettes who went on hunger strikes were force-fed until they vomited? A woman who reported on these protests, Doris Stevens, wrote that they were “never martyrdom for its own sake. It was martyrdom used for a practical purpose.”

When millennials shrug off their right to vote, remind them of John Lewis, currently in his fifteenth term in the House of Representatives. As one of the organizers of the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, he was 21 when he had his skull fractured on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. If he can survive life-threatening injuries protesting for his suffrage when he was close to our age, then what excuse do we have for not voting?

When millennials shrug off their right to vote, remind them of what’s going on in North Dakota right now, where Native Americans are fighting a voter suppression law that would disenfranchise their community, despite a judge ruling yesterday that he will not grant them emergency relief? Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won her Senate seat there in 2012 thanks to the Native vote and has been one of their strongest allies; Kevin Cramer, her current Republican opponent, has ignored them outright. Anyone like Thomas, the white male millennial who complains in New York that there has to be more than “resigning” yourself to a Democrat, should read about what they’re up against and reject their “lesser of two evils” mindset.

Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, we have seen just how important it is to go to the polls. The people who have been most affected by that decision, like the Native Americans in North Dakota, rural African-Americans carpooling to vote for Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and the Latinos who can’t reach the only polling place in Dodge City, Kansas, are fighting for this right in ways we haven’t seen in generations. These communities do not take their rights to vote for granted – so why should you?

When you vote, you have a responsibility not just to vote for a candidate who you think will improve your life: you vote for those who have been denied the same privileges as you. As a straight, white male who grew up in relative luxury, it would be easy for me to put myself first and vote Republican, but if I did I would only be voting for myself. Even in a solidly blue state like California, I know that my vote has consequences for people who need elected officials to help them gain basic necessities like healthcare and affordable housing.

Sure, millennials, you can double down on your excuses, stay home, and tweet about how “woke” you are, but no matter how many times you promote hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter or #MeToo, your beliefs are meaningless without a ballot backing them up. If you really care about marginalized people, for whom everything is at stake right now, then you should show up for them and vote for candidates who fight for their rights. Because nothing would make the Republican Party happier than your apathy.