484 Reasons for Young Voters to Choose
August 18, 2004
first Presidential election I voted in came down to 537 votes, hanging
chads, recounts, and a Supreme Court decision. After that experience,
the young Americans of my generation should not be confused about
whether or not our votes can make a difference. The challenge this
November is turning out enough young voters to make that difference.
Many young voters probably don't realize that when John Kerry
and George W. Bush turned 18, they weren't allowed to vote. Kerry
turned 18 in 1961, the year our youngest elected President, John
F. Kennedy, was sworn into office at the age of 43. Robert Kennedy
was one of the more outspoken advocates for lowering the voting
age during the early 60's. Tragically, neither Jack nor Bobby lived
to see this goal realized. It was the Vietnam War that inspired
America's youth to stand up for their rights.
"Old enough to fight, old enough to vote." That was the rallying
cry of a generation that fought and died but didn't have a voice
in the government that sent them to war. More than half the American
soldiers that died in Vietnam had enlisted at age 21 or younger.
11,465 soldiers, almost one-fifth of all casualties, were killed
before they turned 20.
In 1971, Americans could no longer in good conscience deny these
young men and women the right to vote. The 26th amendment was ratified
faster than any other amendment in history. It became law in the
year that John Edwards turned 18, and the same year John Kerry testified
before Congress, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die
for a mistake?" In 1972, more than five million voters 18, 19, and
20 years old voted for the very first time.
Since then, we have never cracked the five million mark in any
election, so it shouldn't surprise us that America's young voters
have been largely forgotten. This has never been more apparent than
in the past four years under President Bush.
$500 billion dollar budget deficit. $200 billion dollar war. $534
billion dollar Medicare Drug Benefit. $7 trillion dollar national
debt. That is this administration's gift to the youth of America.
Every dollar of the budget deficit is a dollar that will have
to be paid back. Every gallon of gasoline we waste is a gallon we
won't have tomorrow. Every tree that is cut will take a generation
to grow back. Every species that dies out is gone forever. Every
day that stem cell researchers wait is another day a patient waits
for a cure.
Every country that's not with us is against us, and every country
that's against us is a friend we won't have when the next attack
comes. Every child that grows up seeing images of Americans torturing
his people is a child that will grow up hating America.
The debt that is being passed on to my generation isn't just measured
in dollar terms. It is the debt of dependence on oil wells that
will one day run dry. It is the debt of polluted and water that
cannot be cleaned. It is the debt of anti-American sentiment spreading
throughout the world.
Most American voters won't have to pay the full cost of these
mistakes, but the younger you are, the more of that debt will be
yours. Maybe that's what we deserve since the younger you are, the
less likely you are to vote. Maybe it's our own fault that we're
stuck paying the bills, that college tuition is the only thing rising
faster than gas prices, and that soldiers under 25 account for more
than half the casualties in Iraq.
But there is hope. The younger you are, the more likely you are
to be on the Internet, and in this age of blogs and online donations,
Deaniacs and moveon.org, Daily Kos and Democratic Underground, there
is no easier way to get involved.
I had never donated to a political campaign nor attended a political
rally when I found DU in the fall of 2003. I soon found myself in
heated debates with supporters of other candidates. I helped put
up a website. I used my weekend cell phone minutes to make a few
hundred phone calls. I put a bumper sticker on my car and drove
around my state to help at campaign events.
I met a campaign advance team early in the morning and helped set
up a stage and rally a crowd. I passed out flyers at a subway station
and waved signs outside a basketball game. I voted in my state's
primary. A few clicks on the Internet is all it took to get me started,
and it cost a lot less than $7 trillion dollars.
On almost every issue important to the future of America, John
Kerry is far ahead of the current President. He has a plan to reduce
the budget deficit and to pursue renewable energy. He will work
to rebuild our relationships with other countries and reinvest in
important scientific research. For young voters, the choice should
John Kerry and John Edwards are bookends to a generation that
did more for young Americans than any other generation in history,
giving us the most basic right of all - the right to vote. As they
run for office this November, it's time for our generation to start
using that right.
Robert Kennedy once said, "It is a revolutionary world we live
in. It is young people who must take the lead." America is at war
again, and more than half the American soldiers killed in Iraq,
484 of the 944, were under 25. That is 484 young Americans that
won't get a chance to vote this November, and that is 484 reasons
for all of us to not only cast our own ballots but to talk to our
friends and family, to volunteer, and to give what we can.
This November, for the first time since 1972, I believe that five
million Americans under 21 will cast their first ballots in a Presidential
election. I believe that ten million Americans under 25 will vote,
and if I'm right, I know we will put John Kerry in the White House.
It won't bring back those 484 young Americans, but it will help
make sure that they and other young Americans are never forgotten