Starshine Chun, a political science and philosophy major at University of Hawaii Manoa, cares about the 2016 presidential election which she views through the lens of one overriding issue: how our veterans are treated.

She asks: “How is it that the people who served our nation, risked their lives and represented America are not offered the best health care out there?”

She is unimpressed by Donald Trump’s plan to turn the Veterans Administration into a brand new “privatized” institution. Chun finds Hillary Clinton’s plan for reforming the VA more “convincing,” and her noticeable shift towards Bernie Sanders’ progressive politics encouraging. She urges millennials to ask where veterans’ affairs fall on each candidate’s list of priorities.

Julia Lee, a freshman majoring in biochemistry, takes a much broader view. She looks at her generation and says: “We as millennials have a challenge we are not meeting. We have a responsibility we do not recognize. We feel strongly about issues such as climate change, world peace, the quality of public education, stability in the economy, sustainability and growth for the future. And yet one of the easiest things we are not doing is the one thing we can do to contribute to our society: vote.”

Vote
This UH class is studying voting from the perspective of millennials. Flickr.com

Lacye Yata is a sophomore pursuing a degree in biology, with an eye toward going to medical school and becoming a pediatrician someday. She has many questions about the future.

“I constantly ask myself what the world will be like in the next five to 10 years. Will I be able to meet my living expenses? Will I be able to support myself, my family?”

She confesses to not being very interested or educated about politics. “I always thought, what’s the big deal anyway?”

Not any more. “I used to believe in not voting, but my attitude has changed because I want to see change and I want to see it soon. If we do not vote, nothing will get resolved and we will just be sitting here watching it all happen.”

Chun, Lee and Yata are part of an honors class at UH Manoa that is examining the presidential race from the perspective of issues that matter most to millennials. They come from different disciplines and backgrounds and have very different aspirations. But their research into the campaigns has brought all of them to the realization that they have more power than they had imagined to effect change. And they are busy sharing that realization with their peers.

Will millennial engagement improve Hawaii’s low voter turnout?

Perhaps their concerted efforts might improve Hawaii’s notoriously low voter turnout. At a minimum, it may encourage the student body at UH Manoa to become more engaged in deciding who will make the big policy decisions on climate change, the minimum wage, pay parity for women, healthcare, college tuition, housing, gun violence, women’s autonomy over their own bodies, and America’s relationship with the rest of the world.

Discovering that they rival baby boomers as a significant percentage of the population has made these millennials averse to letting their parents and grandparents decide who to put in charge of their future. Their research is telling them that they could significantly influence that decision by casting their own votes for the candidate they believe will speak for them and has a credible chance of winning.

There is reason to hope that millennials will not squander their potential power as they did in 2012, when less than half their bloc turned out to vote, compared to nearly three quarters of the Silent/Greatest Generation (over 71 years old).

This time, perhaps they do see how high the stakes are, and they can feel the issues in their bones in a way that that will drive them to vote and make their presence felt, locally and nationally. This is an election they could quite simply own.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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