Beef: It's What's Wrong With a Youth Vote

kerry on harley
John Kerry rides a Harley onto the Tonight Show in November 2003.

I know I'm young. Maybe not as young as I was last year, but young nonetheless. And according to politicians, pundits, news anchors and organizers, I am right in the middle of the "youth vote." But being part of this group makes me a bit uncomfortable. Although it is an accurate description -- I am young and I do vote -- what bothers me is that it's just another label.

Like a lot of people, I have always avoided labels for fear they would narrow me down to something impossibly simple: a nerd, hippie, activist, rapper, Republican, or artist. I am more complex, and every single one of those labels belies that fact.

In 1996, the big hoopla swing voters were soccer moms. In 2000, the same thing occurred with the "Hispanic vote." Who can forget George W. Bush trying to speak Spanish? As if Hispanics would vote for someone solely on his ability to speak their language! Both parties were so certain Hispanics could win them the election, they forgot that the diversity of the group prevents any accurate generalization of it.

This election, the "youth vote" is getting all the attention. Rock the Vote was created in 1990, and every election the "youth vote" is discussed, but it has never gotten this much attention. Suddenly, I find myself in the midst of a frenzy. The media are holding forums in an attempt to ascertain what I stand for and what will make me vote; politicians are speaking directly to me, trying to connect by using hip slang, dressing down and recalling, almost proudly, their wild, younger years.

When I see these displays, however, I laugh and picture an out-of-touch parent trying to connect with his rebellious child. What the parent and politician don't understand is that they are being, at best, unconsciously condescending. I know these politicians are wearing collarless shirts for me, and they probably spent hours rehearsing new, hip words that are actually now dated to Nelly or Chingy's last hit. And when I hear them admit to smoking pot, I wonder why they hypocritically fund the drug war. But who are these politicians, strategists and reporters really talking about when they say "youth vote"? To them, somehow we are all the same. That's the message I get when they personify MTV's definition of hip. What they and their advisors fail to comprehend is that MTV and the image it sells are rejected by most youth and many are in direct opposition to it.

Commercial culture is a piece of my life, but most of what I enjoy has nothing to do with the billions spent on advertising. A cross section of youth reveals an infinite variety of clothing, hair, music, movies, politics, morals and humor. Why, then, do well-meaning politicians expect our conception of "cool" to be the same?

It is a vicious cycle of politicians wondering why youth are apathetic, then making pathetic attempts to get them involved in the process. My experience has been that most young people don't want to be part of this process. To an extent, I can't blame them, because the voting process often does seem pointless. Whether I vote or not, I know three things will occur: the winner will be a Democrat or Republican; U.S. troops will be sent abroad on a mission somewhere; and more legislation will be enacted that restricts my rights. But I still vote, because I feel it is my obligation.

What I desire is a politician who is comfortable enough with himself and honest enough with me to enjoy his success, wealth and privileged position. Politicians should present themselves honestly. Whatever anyone thinks of young people, the one thing they should know is we can spot a phony in a second.

I know that of all the current candidates criticizing our president, most were also right behind him when he went to war, reduced our liberties, and cut taxes for the wealthy. But instead of those candidates admitting their errors, they pass the blame to everyone but themselves, including the president, the Pentagon, 9/11.

Previous attempts to get our vote have, for whatever reason, focused unilaterally on making voting cool. Politics should not be degraded to the point where we must be lied to about it to get us involved. Attempting to make voting cool will not work on most people. Because it is simply untrue. Although I personally think voting is cool, most of my friends disagree strongly. To them, voting is boring and does not make a difference. Short of having a circus of fire-breathing ballerina chimps, voting will never be cool.

Instead, voting should be presented as what it is: the minimal amount of responsibility we must demonstrate as citizens of a democratic republic. Honesty goes much further than anyone believes.

Arturo Perez is a California resident who enjoys all sorts of things like eating, music, and traveling. His work has appeared on WireTap and in Silicon Valley DeBug.

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