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Voting is for Young People
May 21, 2004
By Randy Schutt

Only 32% of the 26.7 million potential US voters who were age 18 to 24 in 2000 reported that they cast a ballot for president that year - half the rate of those age 45 to 64 and down markedly from the 50% of young people who said they voted in 1972.[1] Is it true that "voting is for old people" as cynically proclaimed by a T-shirt sold earlier this year by Urban Outfitters?[2]

Surely not.

Voting requires minimal effort and is the very least one can expect of citizens in a democracy. Each single vote has little effect in righting social ills - but what can you expect from an act that requires almost no effort? Still, the votes of a lot of young people could achieve regime change in the presidential election on November 2nd. Voting is one small step in the larger effort to bring about the massive social change that we need.

This year young people have a greater incentive to vote and work for change than at any time in decades. Old people are now implementing policies that will have big effects far into the future. Consider:

• The US is quietly preparing to re-introduce a military draft, perhaps as soon as the spring of 2005. This new draft would target both young men and women and would not have exemptions for college.[3] Clearly, young people would be impacted by this intrusive initiative.

• In recent years, the United States has renounced the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, has refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and has refused to support treaties banning anti-personnel landmines, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. The US has also refused to sign the Kyoto Accords on global warming and the Convention on the Rights of the Child or to support the International Criminal Court.[4] The long-term consequences of these wrong-headed policies will fall most heavily on young people and future generations.

• The Bush administration is waging wars on false pretenses in an effort to build and maintain a US empire favorable to US corporations (and, at best, indifferent to democracy).[5] Young people are fighting overseas and dying in increasing numbers for this misguided policy. In the guise of fighting a "War on Terror", the Bush administration has turned our country into an aggressor nation, turned our allies against us, destroyed our respect in the world community, damaged our economy, invaded our privacy, and spawned more terrorists in the Middle East who threaten us - decreasing, rather than increasing, our safety. Young people will bear the brunt of repairing the damage to our world and restoring the ideals of democracy, freedom, and liberty in the United States.

• Our environment is being decimated. Young people will be forced to live in a more barren and polluted world and will eventually have to pay for environmental cleanup and restoration. Two examples among many: The Bush administration has eased environmental safeguards and public participation requirements as a way to promote logging in national forests and oil and gas drilling on pristine public lands. It has also rejected tough new mercury standards in favor of a plan that would allow nearly seven times as much mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants for nearly 20 more years.[6]

• Inadequate federal funding has contributed to the cost of skyrocketing college tuition. For the 2003-04 academic year, tuition and fees at 4-year public universities increased an average of 14.1% over the previous year.[7]

• At the same time, student grants and loans are being cut back, making college less affordable for everyone except the rich. A study in 2002 found that 400,000 qualified high school graduates could not afford to attend a four-year college.[8] Borrowing to pay for college greatly increased during the 1990s. Debts averaged $12,888 in the 1999-2000 academic year for seniors from low-income families attending public four-year schools - up 69% from 10 years earlier, even after adjusting for inflation.[8] In the 1975-76 academic year, average Pell Grant awards covered about 48% of the tuition, fees, room, and board at a four-year public institution, but by the 2000-01 academic year, the average grant covered only 25% of total costs.[10]

• Flawed Bush administration efforts have led the economy into a jobless recovery. This has been particularly devastating for young people. An estimated 61% of 2003 college graduates had to move back in with their parents because of the lack of jobs. Prospects for the future don't look much better.[11]

• Expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq plus massive tax cuts for the super rich have led to the federal government running up massive budget deficits. The additional debt between 2002 and 2007 from these tax cuts is projected to total the equivalent of more than $52,000 per US family of four.[12] These debts will eventually have to be paid for by young people or their children through tax hikes, higher interest rates, or inadequate public services.

• The Social Security Fund is being raided to pay for current expenses (including tax cuts for the super rich).[13] Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has recently proposed slashing Social Security retirement benefits and using the savings to help finance a permanent extension of President Bush's tax cuts.[14] By the time young people retire, there may not be much left of this retirement program.

• Credit card debt is more burdensome than ever. Between 1989 and 2001, total credit card debt in America almost tripled to $692 billion, and the average American family experienced a 53 percent increase in credit card debt to $4,126. US Supreme Court rulings in 1978 and 1996 have allowed the credit card industry to charge usurious rates and fees.[15] Several Supreme Court judges are likely to retire in the next few years and the next president will appoint their successors.

These few examples show how much the government affects our lives and how important it is for us all to be informed and engaged citizens. Young people have an especially strong incentive to set things right so that the rest of their lives will not be severely impacted.

Fortunately, there are many groups working to increase the number of young people involved in the political process. These include:

Project Democracy http://www.projectdemocracy2004.org
Rock The Vote http://www.rockthevote.com
Music for America http://www.musicforamerica.org
Bands Against Bush http://www.bandsagainstbush.org
Punk Voter http://www.punkvoter.com
America Coming Together (ACT) http://www.act4victory.org/

Voting is for young people. Get informed, get involved, and work for change.


[1] "Table A-1. Reported Voting and Registration by Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex and Age Groups: November 1964 to 2000", US Census Bureau http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/voting/tabA-1.pdf

[2] "'Voting Is For Old People': Urban Outfitters Peddles Political Irony", MTV.com, February 18, 2004 http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1485150/20040218/index.jhtml?headlines=true

[3] "Beware of Attempts to Revive Military Draft", by Bob Keeler, Newsday, December 22, 2003 http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1222-02.htm

"Military Draft: A Sleeping Giant Stirs", Center on Conscience & War, December 9th, 2003 http://www.nisbco.org/uaa12-9-03.htm

"Oiling Up the Draft Machine?", by David Lindorff, Salon.com, Nov. 3, 2003 http://archive.salon.com/news/feature/2003/11/03/draft/ or http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5146.htm

"Reinstate the Draft????", Cleveland Peace Action http://www.peaceactioncleveland.org/Legislation.htm#DRAFT

Information on S.89, Friends Committee on National Legislation http://capwiz.com/fconl/issues/bills/?billnum=S.89&congress=108

[4] "Rogue States? America Ought to Know: The Hyperpower Sets Its Own Rules", by Phyllis Bennis, TomPaine.com, March 1, 2002 http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/5208

[5] "The President's Real Goal in Iraq", by Jay Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 29 September 2002 http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/bookman/2002/092902.html or http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0930-08.htm

"The National Security Strategy of the United States of America", The White House, September 2002 http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/secstrat.htm

"Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century", Project for the New American Century, September 2000 http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

"Now in Open, 'Empire' Talk Unsettling", by Jay Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 08 May 2003

http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/bookman/2003/050803.html or http://www.icujp.org/cgi-bin/datacgi/database.cgi?file=Issues&report=SingleArticle&ArticleID=0099

[6] "Report Documents Bush Administration's Accelerated Assault on America's Environment: NRDC Details How White House 'Rewriting Rules' for Industry" National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), April 15, 2004. http://www.nrdc.org/media/pressReleases/040415.asp

See also: Sierra Club "W" Watch http://www.sierraclub.org/wwatch/

Bush Green Watch http://www.bushgreenwatch.org

[7] "Trends in College Pricing 2003" Press Release, The College Board, October 21, 2003 http://www.collegeboard.com/press/article/0,3183,29541,00.html

[8] "Fund Gap Bars Way to College: 400,000 Qualified Students Can't Enter in Fall, Study Says" by Mary Leonard, Boston Globe, June 27, 2002 http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0627-06.htm

[9] "College Further From Poor's Grasp, Study Shows", by Stuart Silverstein, Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2002 http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0502-02.htm

[10] "Trends in Student Aid, 2003", Table 7, The College Board, October 27, 2003 http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/press/cost03/cb_trends_aid_2003.pdf

[11] "$100k on a Degree -- Now What? With Jobs Scarce, More than Half of this Year's College Graduates will Head Home to Mom and Dad", by Leslie Haggin Geary, CNN/Money, June 4, 2003 http://money.cnn.com/2003/06/02/pf/college/q_gradhome/

[12] "Shifty Tax Cuts: How They Move the Tax Burden off the Rich and onto Everyone Else", United for a Fair Economy, April 7, 2004 http://www.ufenet.org/press/2004/ShiftyTaxCuts_pr.html


[13] "Joker in Chief: The President Proposes Sham Spending Cuts and Still Can't Get Near Fiscal Balance. It's Dangerous Baloney." by Robert S. McIntyre, The American Prospect, March 2004 http://www.prospect.org/web/view-print.ww?id=7252

[14] "Social Security's Zealous Raider", by Robert S. McIntyre, The American Prospect, April 2004 http://www.prospect.org/web/view-print.ww?id=7508

[15] "Borrowing to Make Ends Meet: The Growth of Credit Card Debt in the '90s",by Tamara Draut and Javier Silva, Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action, September 8, 2003 http://www.demos-usa.org/pub1.cfm

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