Why American Youth Will Vote

Let's just clear the air. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about electoral politics. Especially if you, like me, have only voted in two presidential elections that were both highly contested, dragged out affairs involving hanging chads, smug Bushes, and a cowardly Congress.

And even if you didn't have the opportunity to vote in those deflating, hang-over inducing debacles, you watched it happen. You were a greasy-faced adolescent, part of a generation raised on "save the world" rhetoric and compulsory community service. You stole your mom's "I Voted" sticker and stuck it on your messenger bag. You dreamed of going behind those secret curtains and pulling the lever yourself. And then you learned about the electoral college and voter fraud and it all seemed like a whole lot of hype.

But this, all you hipsters and hip-hop heads, Rock Band addicts and radical libertarians, 18- and 28-year-olds, is why we will vote today.

We will vote because we were raised on a lot of rhetoric about the American Dream, but rarely have a chance to participate in it so directly. Hang out in this sprawling, strip-malled land of opportunity long enough, and you learn that "bootstraps" is code for "you're on your own," and the legacy of slavery and sexism is invisible only to those who benefit from it.

It's hard to counter the deeply entrenched notion that all hard work is equally rewarded in the good ol' U.S. of A. But on this day, November 4, Election Day, every single person that walks in that booth -- first-generation American, Thomas Jefferson's great-great-great grandson, black, white, Latino, Asian, Ivy League-educated, junior-high drop out, gay, straight, disabled, skinny, fat, male, female alike -- is granted equal say in our shared destiny.

Your daddy doesn't have to own the booth. You don't have to have a special voting prep course. You don't need to use big words or dress in business casual. You only need show up and pull that lever.

We will vote because we know that while the president cannot save us from ourselves, he or she can be a powerful symbol of the best within us. American citizens make America what it is each and every day. The choices we make about what to consume, how to treat one another, where and with whom we spend our precious time and energy -- this is what adds up to the sum of our country. But the president represents our best intentions. He or she stands before the world as a figurehead. His or her voice is the singular chorus of our collective notion of the country's future.

We will vote because our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents have brought us to this country -- sometimes under fire, flood, the threat of famine, and almost always with great personal sacrifice -- because they had a dream about who we would someday be. We want to be that somebody on Election Day. We want to show them that, while their idea of America may have been a little too romantic, their love was never wasted on us.

We will vote because it is time to show -- with fierce and united force -- just what our generation is made of. We've heard the stories, watched the grainy footage, of the so-called heyday of youth activism. But the '60s are over. And we may not be as convinced of the power of protest, we may have shorter hair and attention spans, but we are deeply, profoundly committed to being responsible citizens. We will vote because it's an opportunity to provide skeptical pundits who have written us off as apathetic with statistics that will shut them up, once and for all.

We will vote because those of us who are female know that women were beaten, ostracized, divorced, and threatened for our privilege. It's hard to even imagine that there was a time when our politics were considered irrelevant simply because of our sex, hard to imagine sitting at dinner with our fathers and brothers, told to keep quiet about matters of national importance. We will vote in honor of our own blissful amnesia of these preposterous times.

We will vote because those of us who are youth of color know that our ancestors not only endured economic oppression, physical and verbal abuse, and humiliation, but died for our privilege. And for the first time in American history, many of us have the opportunity to elect a leader who looks like us, doesn't demonize or condescend to us, who has shared some of our most intimate experiences of growing up in a country with an unfinished racial revolution.

We will vote because we want to be a part of history. We want to sit down with our children and grandchildren as they hit the history books and tell them colorful stories about the election of ‘08 with all its unprecedented twists and turns, invoke the feeling in the air as we strolled to our polling place, and pat them on the head, saying, "Someday, sweetie, you too will get to vote in a groundbreaking election."

We will vote because we have found the real world is sometimes an alienating place, and this is a way to feel less alone.

We will vote because we dreamed that we would someday "make a difference" in the world, and then our rent was hard to afford and our cigar-smoking uncles kept asking us what we were going to do with our lives and we got drunk and forgot. Voting will remind us of ourselves that summer when we were eight and sent all of our lemonade stand profits to Sally Struthers even if we weren't sure it would really help the swollen-bellied children in Africa. It was something to do. It was somebody to be.

We will vote because, though we are sometimes too cool for our own good, we're also young and naïve enough to hope. And as Barack Obama himself has told us, "In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope."

Hope, kids. Hope hard. And write the true story of an America that stars you as the vote-casting, wide-eyed protagonist. I can almost promise there's a happy ending.

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