We don’t vote. At least, not enough.
In the highest recorded voter turnout since 1960, less than 62% of us made it to the polls in 2008. And that was a major, presidential election which broke ground on many levels. Mid-term elections typically fare much worse; less than half of us bother to send an opinion.
What’s of even more concern, however, is that our kids don’t vote.
While countries across the world send huge numbers of citizens to their polls, the youth of America stays home. In Afghanistan, citizens traveled miles and literally risked their lives (14 people were killed) for the opportunity to vote in their recent elections. Our kids are unlikely to travel to the conveniently located polling sites in their towns for Tuesday’s election.
I avoid what I consider the obvious minefield topics with my students: religion, politics. It isn’t that I don’t have an opinion or that I don’t want to hear theirs; I do. However, because I work so closely with them –one-on-one- I acknowledge that my influence upon their decisions may be prejudicially weighted -and feel that testing that assumption would be unfair.
Case in point. The other day, I was working with a student who had to stake a debate position. She chose her side and I offered to play devil’s advocate. Upon hearing my case, she switched sides. I switched my position again; she switched back. She wasn’t trying to be funny, or so fully indecisive.
Part of her quick abandonment of her stated principles was that at the root of the debate, she really didn’t care much one way or the other. However, when I pressed her, she offered an even more candid reasoning.
“Which side will have more research material available?” she asked.
I answered her honestly. She chose what she considered the “easier” route.
While most of my students might not be so quickly swayed by some of my well-constructed arguments, I’ve edged to their principles often enough to understand how easily I could bring them to another viewpoint. That’s why I leave most of my opinions to myself.
And apparently, it’s worked.
For some reason (perhaps it’s the political season) two students with whom I’ve never discussed my beliefs recently asked me where I stood. When I declined an outright admission, they each decided they knew the answer. One said I was most definitely a liberal; the other assumed me a staunch Republican.
Good. I guess.
I’m not so sure I like the idea that they were both completely convinced that they know me so well and that clearly they do not. Or at least, one of them doesn’t.
But what I also don’t like is my own dawning comprehension that in all my non-contribution to political discourse with them, I’ve left them to their own devices. To a great extent, I’ve done this with my own children, as well, urging them to make their own choices and come to their own conclusions. Good theory.
And leaving the lot of them to their own opinions wouldn’t be a bad thing –if they had any.
I’m not kidding.
When I try to get any of them fired up on most any topic, I generally fall short. There’s just not a whole lot about which they care passionately. And that worries me way more than whether or not the ballot they cast will support my candidate or positions. Sure, it would nice if they followed lockstep with my beliefs so I was assured my version of “right” decisions being upheld into the political future. But given a choice of a wrong answer or none at all, I think I’d allow them their own mistakes. After all, those who have come before them have made plenty.
So this week when I make one final effort to implore my kids and my students to vote, included in my reasons will be their constitutionally protected right to disagree with the adults in their lives in a format that gives them equal clout. I’ll urge them to vote with me, even if their vote may effectively cancel my own.
Yet even as they offer me their earnest assurances that they’ll find a way to make it to the polls or send in those absentee ballots their parents have forwarded along, my cynical self will imagine them hearing my voice as the wah, wah, wah, of a Charlie Brown fashioned cartoon. And rather than cast that ballot and cancel my vote, they’ll allow me and my kind to still lead their future, passing on yet another opportunity to stake a claim on the world which will very soon be theirs.