We’ve all heard it. “I care, but my vote really doesn’t matter.” We’ve heard it in Rivera library, in Starbucks, in class, at the HUB. In a time of uncertain job prospects, disastrous cuts to higher education and massive student debt, not many students have faith in the power of the vote to produce any lasting change. Shortly before the November 2010 election, in a Rock the Vote survey, 59 percent of students said they were more cynical than two years before, and 63 percent of those who doubted they’d vote justified their likely disavowal by agreeing that “no matter who wins, corporate interests will still have too much power and prevent real change.” Roughly four million fewer students participated in the November 2010 election than just two years before, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) youth research center, and in a Harvard survey this spring, just 36 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believed it was honorable to run for public office. In these tough times, students have been asking themselves, “Why even bother?”
But voting matters. It empowers the voices of the American people, and it is one of the hallmarks of our republic. Yet voting is much more than a symbolic gesture. It is an opportunity to make a change, and student involvement is absolutely paramount. To the student that believes his vote will do nothing, imagine if every single college student voted. If you convinced all the students who don’t vote to vote, then suddenly your quiet voice becomes much louder. Suddenly, students represent a colossal group of educated individuals that no politician can ignore. The youth of America make up 24 percent of the voting population, according to CIRCLE. That’s roughly 46 million eligible voters between the ages of 18-29, compared to the 39 million voters over the age of 65. That is a large margin that cannot be ignored. Remember, in 2000 George W. Bush won the presidency by only a 537 votes in Florida. The more students that vote, the greater influence students will have in the political realm. Your vote matters.
Of course, students are not simply the cells of some enormous mucousy hivemind; every individual is different. But it’s not about who or what students vote for. What’s important is that the American youth have a say in the direction of our country. Yet many students say that they don’t know enough or that the issues are too complicated, and some even feel helpless to change things. This self-perpetuating feeling of paralysis does nothing but impede real progress. So how can this be overcome?
It all begins with education. By researching candidates’ positions and sifting through cheap political attack ads and phony journalism, America’s youth can take the first step in making a difference. But even some students who are informed of the issues and stances might say that no matter what they do, true dominance will remain in the hands of the wealthy, and that their voices will ultimately be tuned out. To curb this feeling of powerlessness and to achieve real social change, it is vital for students to stay involved in the political process beyond the voting booth. Political organizing and protest, accompanied by voting, are excellent tools for students to engage in the issues they care about. Volunteer in campaigns, get out there and start a discussion. Listen to your peers through thoughtful debate and reflect on what you’ve heard.
Even if the candidate or proposition you voted for fails, change is a work in progress. Persistence in the face of adversity and striving for a cause you believe in are not just Disney clichés, but are fundamental building blocks for advancement. Students can challenge the status quo not by abandoning the process or holding candidates to an impossibly perfect standard, but by working hard.
Students who feel their vote won’t matter won’t change a thing if they don’t mobilize. For UC students, the importance of the upcoming November ballot cannot be overstated. For instance, Governor Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, or proposition 30, can impact the UC significantly. On Nov. 6, voters will decide to approve a sales tax increase by one-quarter of a cent for four years and set higher income taxes on those who make $250,000 or higher for seven years. If the tax initiative fails, a $250 million mid-year “trigger cut,” leading to an expected rise of nearly $2,400 in annual tuition—a 20.3 percent increase, will result. Students have a voice, they just need to use it. Register to vote online at http://registertovote.ca.gov.