This week's post was written by Amy Hunt. She is an author of RED the Book, a collection of personal essays written by 58 American teenage girls. This summer, she plans to volunteer for Wizard Rock the Vote, a project focused on registering voters at wizard rock shows across the country. She will be a freshman at Juniata College in the fall.
For a lot of Americans, this presidential race is already proving to be about learning to live with a candidate who isn't the one they chose. I see Hillary Clinton's supporters struggling with this--some of them have been voting for 50 years!--and, with all this talk of the youth vote, I wonder if my generation can take it.
At my high school graduation last month, my AP U.S. History teacher informed us in his speech that the social scientists have finally come up with a name for us: the Millennial Generation. He also informed us that, every few generations, amongst the old idealistic windbags, there will come a generation that works to repair what the idealistic windbags seem to have broken, politically, economically, and socially. He tagged us as that civic generation: the one ready to fix what his "Boomer-Geezers" are leaving behind.
In January, I'd expressed to this same U.S. History teacher my excitement at finally being able to vote, my 18th birthday being May 1st and the Kentucky primaries a few weeks later. He'd looked at me and smiled and said something along the lines of, "Not that it'll count or anything." I certainly agreed: The Kentucky primaries have mattered exactly zilch for many, many years. Little did the both of us know that the battle would still be raging through May, when both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned here, and when, for the first time that I can actually remember, I saw presidential campaign ads on TV.
On May 20th, I voted for the first time. Standing there in that booth, feeling empowered and smiling like a madwoman, I saw John Edwards' name on the screen and had a moment of crisis. To think that I could vote for him, my first choice for the Democratic Party nomination, made me giddy and flustered. Do I vote for the candidate I prefer, or for a candidate who's actually in the race?
In the end, I decided to vote Obama--who was crushed that day in Kentucky.
Still, I'm not ashamed of my vote. I have no qualms voting for somebody who lost. I won't ever walk into the booth thinking that my vote won't count.
But I have to wonder, as a part of this Millennial Generation, one in love with cellphones and Facebook, how we might feel if say, we get all excited about a candidate, millions of us get engaged in our country for the first time--and someone else ends up president? I understand that many of those Boomer-Geezers think that my peers and I are too dependent on the Internet, that we don't get out enough, that we waste our time online talking to friends and pretending to do homework when really we're illegally downloading loads of music. I understand that many of those Boomer-Geezers expect apathy from us.
In return comes the fact that when we defy their expectations, when we rise above the stereotype and say, use the Internet to research a presidential candidate, we tend to expect to be rewarded: with a certain number of Facebook friends, with the first person we ever voted for winning the election.
John Edwards pulled out of the race before I'd even registered to vote. And like I said, I didn't even vote for a candidate that my home state seems to like very much. But why should I sacrifice my choice, the one thing I'm sure of, for the sake of what might probably happen?
Some of my friends walk around with bitterness about this election, and some don't care at all. I've heard a lot of people my age moan that their vote doesn't count and won't ever count here. The candidate they want will never be chosen, so what's the use?
But I look to November with joy and eagerness. Because nobody can tell me who to vote for, and this power that I hold is new and mine and mine alone. We have the power to choose--which is a lot more important, even, than having the power to choose a particular candidate. We have to vote knowing that as the first-time voter goes, so may not necessarily go the nation.
I am not the voice of my generation. Far from it. I can hardly explain why I'd vote for a certain candidate, who caught my attention on YouTube, why I believe what I believe. I'm pro John Edwards, I voted for Barack Obama, but I don't really have anything against Hillary Clinton. How strange does that sound?
What I can say, though, is that I know what is important to me in this election. I voted because I know that I want to continue to grow up in a country that encourages growth: growth of spirit, of knowledge, of strength. And such growth can only exist through action. My candidate, your candidate, may not win every election. But at least by using your right to choose, you give yourself permission--and power--to fight even harder next time for what you want. Don't let anybody, or the outcome of an election, tell you that your vote doesn't matter. Why do you think our ancestors fought so hard for it in the first place?
I'm sure many Boomer-Geezers out there think that this is too altruistic, too long-term a goal for my peers and me to get behind. But we know better than anyone how not to lose ourselves in the Internet, how to use it to network and access a vast array of resources that will someday help us learn how to regain what our country seems to have lost.
You don't have to volunteer at every campaign office, add each political figure's page on Facebook, or bang on every door in town. You simply have to know that change is necessary, that knowledge is power, that your vote is your voice--and that you will never be heard until you use it.
I've been thinking this week about that 11-year-old boy who Hillary kept telling us sold his bike so he could contribute to her campaign. I can only hope that, whatever name they come up with for his generation, he's still thinking of himself as an engaged young citizen--who will vote for a president in 2016--instead of thinking of himself as a kid without a bike.