Here two young people explain their attitudes toward voting. One expresses his anger at the passivity and silence of his peers. Another explains how she changed from an enthusiastic voter to someone who lost faith in our democratic system.
You Didn’t Vote – Now Republicans Are in Power
By Kevin Zhu, 16
I am not a citizen. I am not even a permanent resident, despite the fact that I’ve lived here for upwards of eight years and am more involved in politics than most registered voters twice my age. It will probably be a long time before I can step into a voting booth and exercise my powers of good judgment, but that’s not what distresses me.
What distresses me is the apathy among those around me who can vote and choose not to, who think that their vote doesn’t matter but should know better.
Yes, I’ve read “Stupid White Men,” by Michael Moore, I’ve seen the BBC report on the election fraud, and I know in full atrocious detail the travesty that took place in Florida. I also know that Florida continues to have voting problems, and that the methods the incumbent Republican governor used to win this election are shady at best and a repeat of the 2000 presidential election at worst.
However, it’s clear that most reasonable Americans who believe in the importance of a secular government and improved social services know that conservative policies represent the antitheses of these fundamental goals of a modern republic. So it only stands to reason that if more people (read: minorities) vote in hotly contested areas, we will eventually get what we want.
Think about it: Does the passive protest you demonstrate through not voting really speak louder than the action of making your opinions known? Can “The Man” really keep his constituents down in every state, every county, every school board?
Shame on those of you who don’t vote because you complain of feeling disenfranchised. You’re exhibiting the very paralysis that allows the cycle of deceit and coercion to continue.
Perhaps I only believe this because I’m 16 and have not hardened into a cynical shell yet, or perhaps the average citizen’s good sense was somehow lost in the maelstrom of anger, confusion, oppression and hanging chads that have marked this country’s democratic process for the past two years.
Now, with Republicans in firm control of all three branches of government and a monkey with a filial mission of war in the White House, we all are paying the price for an unprecedented and ill-advised lack of voter participation.
Let us not forget the words of Rev. Martin Niemoeller, who first welcomed the Nazis to power in 1933 but was confined to a Berlin prison in 1937:
“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, but by that time, no one was left to speak up.”
While it may be convenient and justified to blame everything on the underhanded treachery of the powers that be, only our own silence and passive acceptance can lead to our demise.
Did you vote or did you stay home and watch “SpongeBob”?
I Did Not and Will Not Vote
By Shadi, 21
My boyfriend and I have always fought over the fact that at 23 he’s never even registered to vote.
“I’m not going to take part in the white man’s system. The government doesn’t give a damn about what I have to say anyway,” he always tells me. “What you don’t understand is the fact that your vote doesn’t count.”
My boyfriend, who is half Native American and half African American, always told me that no one asked his people what they thought before they took their land and enslaved them. He would tell me that if he voted he would be validating a system that is still enslaving his people.
As an Iranian who comes from a history of people who are still fighting for the right to a legitimate voting system, I always argued that we have to work within the system in place. I would tell him that if he had worked with me a few years back to register enough people to vote, who felt just like us about Proposition 21, which made the juvenile justice system in California more punitive toward minors, it may have never passed.
“Yeah right,” he would say. “You know they don’t really count votes anyway. Even if a majority had voted against the proposition, they still would’ve passed it.
There’s no way of ever knowing if they’re really counting.”
As someone who was embarrassed that my non-citizen parents didn’t vote while I was growing up and who immediately registered to vote when I turned 18, I always disagreed with him. “That’s not true,” I would say, shaking my head in frustration.
But after Bush stole the elections in 2000, I lost what little faith I had left in the U.S. political system. That is why I chose not to vote.
For those who continue to insist that every vote counts, I recommend Michael Moore’s most recent book “Stupid White Men,” which explains the 2000 North American coup. Moore talks about how “President” George W. Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb
Bush, gave Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state in charge of elections, permission to eliminate black and Latino votes.
Moore researched and found that in the summer of 1999, Harris paid $4 million to Database Technologies to go through Florida’s voter rolls and remove anyone “suspected” of being a former felon. As a result, 173,000 registered voters (the majority of whom were black) were permanently removed from the list, while 8,000 others were thrown off because the database also eliminated names of felons who served their time in other states and were supposed to get their voting rights reinstated.
As hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the polls to exercise their “constitutional right,” they were met by police barricades and the shocking statement: “You are not registered. You cannot vote.” The BBC was first to reveal the truth behind the elections, while the U.S. media still has not given the story the coverage it deserves.
When George W. Bush was officially credited with receiving 537 more votes than Al Gore in Florida, the U.S. political system lost any credibility it had with people like me, who had a little hint of hope left. It doesn’t even matter who won anymore. The point is that people of color were strategically and systematically silenced.
On Nov. 5 I did not vote, in protest for those who were prohibited from voting throughout this nation’s history. I did not vote in protest for those who fought and died for the right to vote, but whose descendants were blatantly stripped of that same right two years ago. I did not vote because I did not want to legitimize a corrupt system that ignores our cries for peace while leading us to believe that we still have a voice.
I did not vote and I will not vote because I no longer believe that “every vote counts.”
© 2002, YO! (Youth Outlook), San Francisco. www.youthoutlook.org.