To Vote or Not To Vote? That is Not The Question

Nov. 4, 2014. Midterm elections. Results: Republicans take control of both houses of Congress, with a majority of 53 in the senate and 243 (out of 435) in the House of Representatives; Massachusetts elects Republican Charlie Baker as governor; our districts’ elected state representatives are senator-elect Jason Lewis and representative-elect Steven Ultrino; Ballot questions one and four pass while two and four leave laws unchanged.

I could account for the sad truth that many students will not understand what the above paragraph means to them, but to be fair, the Big Picture is something that many voting-age citizens struggle with. For a student, considering a political issue is perhaps as daunting as learning how to pay taxes, filling out a job application, or coming to the bloodcurdling realization that parallel parking is a practice devised by sadistic mathematicians who take pleasure in making young men and women feel as if they are growing up too fast. It seems almost silly that obtaining the ability to contribute to the nation’s and state’s developments makes people more anxious.

Stress is warranted. Taking responsibility for, well, any national affair is quite the feat. And not only does everyone have the right to choose how they vote, but whether or not they vote at all. It has been my observation, though, that many students simply disqualify themselves from thinking about politics on account of their age. Out of all the things that matter during an election – whether it be for your district representative, a ballot question, or the President of the United States – age should be at the bottom of that list.

I can empathize – thinking about the gridlock in Washington and the awful inequalities and disorders in government can make anyone’s head hurt if they try too hard. The biggest mistake people make, though, is that because they don’t care about that part of government, they should not care about politics at all. Politics is not just about the bureaucracy. It is not only about who is right or wrong about guns, health care, or the economy. And just because racism and sexism still exists doesn’t mean nothing can move forward, ever.

Take Charlie Baker’s recent election, for example. In his campaign mission, he advocates the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts. This can mean different things for different people – his plan to “remove the arbitrary restrictions” on who can attend charter schools, according to his campaign website, might mean more opportunities for students. On the other hand, spending money on expanding charter schools risks existing funding for mainstream schools like Malden High, which has already seen enough budget cuts.

A more visible example is Question #3 on the Massachusetts state ballot. In sum, the casino being built in Everett has the legal OK to continue construction. What does this mean? Time will tell, but it could mean anything from traffic and rapid expansion in surrounding cities like Malden to a rise of local business and jobs. Take a step back, dissociate yourself from political party, and ask yourself: Would you have voted to retain the tranquility of semi-urban life or taken a chance at bringing more business to Malden?

Again, many students would look at this issue and turn their heads indignantly, saying they do not care. But I implore you to ask yourself exactly why. Voting is not about supporting some tyrannical scheme that will continue to oppress you. (In fact, voting is literally the opposite by principle.) If it helps, think of voting as a means of rebellion. It’s a statement on the current order – this part of government is good, this part isn’t, this part needs changed.

I should acknowledge at this point that I am actually not eligible to vote yet; I am still seventeen years old. However, I joined the congressional campaign for Katherine Clark, who is now our current district representative in U.S. Congress, in 2013. Not only did I get to meet candidates like Clark, Edward Markey (our Senator from Malden), now-state congressman Steven Ultrino and state senator Jason Lewis; but I also have the privilege of saying I had a hand in sending a proud woman with three children in public education in our district to Congress.

Bragging is not my intention here, so let me point out why this is something students should think about participating in, other than the fact it looks great on a college resume. Age does not mean you are incapable of having an opinion. Naivety is not a label that sticks to you until you have acquired a job and had three children; no, it is the state of lacking exposure to the world around you. By engaging yourself with people who care and are willing to explain to you why certain issues are important to your community, you nullify any claim to such words. The only prerequisite to participating and discussing politics is understanding of the issue, and that part is surprisingly easy. (That is, unless you’re asking a politician who doesn’t want you to know he’s more naive than you are. And in this day and age, this is not as rare as you may believe.)

What if you have a strong belief about something that is not on the ballot? As a minor you are also capable of starting a petition online or in person. This sounds rather tedious, but the end result of a successful petition can be stunning. This newspaper accepts letters-to-the-editors. Most importantly, who’s to say you are too young to talk with your representative or senator of your state? Country? The president?

Young people are said to have poor voting habits, and unfortunately, this proves true after every election. But the right to vote is not reserved for the students with a GPA above 3.5, the AP Government attendees, the debate team kids – it is for the ones who have an idea of what is best for themselves and their communities. And even if you are not a citizen or cannot vote for whatever reason, you have the power to help justice occur.

It matters, Malden High. Your views are only valid if you make them valid. Next year at the school committee election, come to the booths with an idea of who can make Malden schools an even better place. I hope to see you there.

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