Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The importance of voting

Published 10/16/02 at the Duke Chronicle

November’s election is right around the corner, and it is worth noting at this point that our system of elections is one of the defining features of our country. All too often, our democracy is taken for granted, especially by the young, and it is therefore essential to call on college students, the leaders and citizens of tomorrow and thus those with the most long-term stake in this country, to go and participate in the vote.

Young people aged 18-24 constitute almost 13% of the voting-eligible population yet only 7% of actual voters; barely a third of them voted in the 2000 election, whereas 72% of those over 65 voted. And of course, children don’t vote. Is it any wonder then that issues like Social Security and Medicare get far more attention and dollars than education and college tuition?

Apathy among the young for political participation bodes ill for future policymaking. Our common engagement in social and national policy is the bedrock for key decisions in all facets of life, large and small, and distinguishes our society in so many ways from other societies where repression is the rule. What a jarring contrast the last year has afforded us – on Sept. 11, firefighters in the citadel of a free society hurled themselves at death to save others, while this past March, officials in Saudi Arabia, the nest of Islamic fundamentalism, blocked girls from fleeing their burning school because they did not have their head-scarves on, condemning them to death by immolation. Every point of view is aired freely on Iraq and war, with congressional representatives even criticizing the President from Baghdad; does anyone ever see anyone aside from Saddam speaking in his meetings with his general staff? A tight and unpredictable race for control of the House and Senate is in the offing, while in Pakistan, the only Islamic nation with nuclear weapons, a military dictator stages sham referenda and phony elections with most of the major candidates barred from participating, as like most of that nation’s history.

But I digress. The point to note is that our common engagement in our nation is something to be proud of, cherished, treasured, and most importantly, nourished with our continued participation. There are so many issues at stake. Beyond Iraq and foreign policy, there are issues of critical importance to the renewal of our country’s domestic foundations – education, environment, health care, energy independence, preventing corporate abuse & minimizing corporate welfare, reforming while safeguarding Social Security & Medicare, judicial appointments to federal courts. A conservative has much at stake, especially if one wants to back the President on Iraq; a liberal has even more so, with the Senate the only Democratically-controlled institution in the 3 branches of government. So wherever you stand on the political spectrum, participate and make your voice heard. 90% of life is just showing up. So go and vote this November.


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