As a 17-year-old girl 4,800 miles away from Washington, D.C., it’s easy to feel helpless in the face of our nation’s politics. Whether it be the debate about Social Security and Medicare, the Syrian conflict, or women’s reproductive rights, it all seems relatively far away.

It doesn’t matter that one in four of my fellow female classmates will likely have an abortion in their lifetime, or that missile crises don’t appear as unlikely as they used to. I can’t vote. So what am I supposed to do about it?

Even my peers old enough to have the privilege to actually fill out a ballot rarely exercise it; although voter registration has been up 15 percent since the 2014 midterm election, there still remains a 13 percent gap between those who register and those who follow through.

 

 

It was astounding to me at first — how could 18-year-olds not want the thrill of impacting their country’s future? But then again, not everyone is a policy nerd like me, and between the sheer numbers of the elderly who consistently catch the attention of officeholders with their magnified voice and the seemingly general consensus that millennials don’t know what’s best, it’s not that surprising, after all.

Many teenagers and college students shrug off elections for those very reasons: Why vote if it doesn’t matter? Why vote if it won’t change anything?

No matter your political affiliation, it’s quite clear that American politics have become quite the train wreck.  Parties are more polarized than ever before, and there’s a deep-rooted and long suppressed hatred brewing for those with differing ideology.

The only positive from these divides is a renewed interest in politics.

Early Voting 2018 Honolulu Hale Ballot Secrecy Folder 2018. 4 aug 2018

It’s impossible to ignore these days. It clouds our Instagram feeds and TV programs, constricting us like a tightening noose as we watch in abject horror like it’s a car crash in slow motion. It’s become a screaming match in which everyone is convinced they will be the winner. It’s deafening.

And because of its volatility, it’s become a taboo subject. It’s not something to discuss at the dinner table with relatives from another half of America; no, that’s calling for a cold shoulder or a food fight.

Of course, none of this helps us, our nation’s youth, as we search for a way into this aged and complicated system. It becomes impossible to ask questions, to explore perspectives, to debate without an argument. And often, our own loved ones leave us trapped in a personal echo chamber in which the views we know are the only ones we ever hear.

So why aren’t youth voting? Speaking from experience, the problem’s core is simply a lack of political efficacy. The world doesn’t slow down to explain things to new voters, and with the scales heavily tipped in favor of the elderly, topics actually relevant to kids like education funding and environmental reform aren’t usually on the table. Currently, over 24 percent of the federal budget is funneled into entitlement programs. Two percent goes into education. It’s a wonder we graduate at all.

Think of the impact if those funds were more even. Think of the quality of education the nation would be able to provide for its future leaders. But, for now, quick-fix legislation is the norm, and future-thinking policy seems to be a lost cause.

Well, it’s a “lost cause” until we decide it isn’t.

Youth aren’t exactly silent, either. With recent events like March for Our Lives, it seems more apparent than ever that we’re ready to break into the political scene, no matter how many locked doors we encounter. But that passion seen on the streets of our cities means little if it isn’t carried into the voting booth. Legislators can ignore big speeches and battle cries. They can’t ignore the termination of their hold of office.

Yes, it’s possible, but not with the mindset pushed upon us for too long. We’re hardly helpless in the face of politics; even those without any formal power can still educate their parents, encourage their peers, pick up a pen. You may have to be 18 to tick a box, but you don’t have to be 18 to be the voice that tells others to do so.

So let this column be a place where ideas are shared and the realm of politics becomes accessible to those who will someday run it. My pencil itches to write: We have power. Fear us. We’ll be running this country long after you’re gone.

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