[Parks] Keep the Gum and Buttons | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Parks] Keep the Gum and Buttons

We hear it often. We 18- to 24-year-olds hold the future in our hands. We have the power to swing elections and change America. And come November, when we do this, we'll be armed with hip slogans, slick gimmicks and absolutely no clue about the issues.

At least that seems to be what pop culture is expecting of us. Non-partisan groups are sugaring us up on free Pepsi products and Avril Lavigne "Vote" t-shirts, and putting us on a no-issue diet. It sounds like a hybrid of the Adkins diet: eat a lot of fatty, superfluous things and eschew the energy boosters.

At least those over-marketed groups are paying attention to us, though. The politicians certainly aren't. Bush hasn't paid any attention to youth voters, and Kerry's idea of appealing to us is to roar onto the Jay Leno set on a motorcycle. But why should Kerry worry about what we're interested in? Many 18- to 24-year-olds who vote are going to vote for him anyway because he isn't Bush. Is there anyone who is convinced by Kerry's performance that he cares about young people? He's too busy riding the fence (and the bikes) to find out what youth voters really think.

We actually aren't as dumb as various voting agencies treat us. We're not going to wake up on Election Day and think, "Hey, Rock the Vote offered me free buttons and gum to go vote. I should really get up there and do that." Issues, more so than gum or buttons, will stick in our minds—get us to the polls. We're not just numbers; we're humans, too, and we care about issues.

Instead of speaking directly to this target audience, the millions of us young people who could very well dominate any election, politicians speak nebulously about issues. Bush's idea two years ago about educating the college graduates at Ohio State University was simply to tell them to respond to the challenges of terrorism and war by making "a culture of service" a permanent part of American life.

Bush's Web site (http://www.georgewbush.com), full of talk about homeland security and Social Security, makes no mention of college or health insurance for young people. Kerry's site (johnkerry.com) does directly address college eligibility, with a detailed plan of action to get all young people into college, regardless of economic standing. But he's spent infinitely more time in the media criticizing Bush and the war than discussing paying for college. Or, at least that's what the media tell us.

We deserve to be educated about how things affect us. Instead of buying chic leather jackets to match your motorcycle, talk to us about Bush's abstinence-only platform. You don't have to encourage pre-marital sex to admit that it's going on.

Kerry could easily separate himself from Bush by simply discussing safe-sex options in response to Bush's strict no-sex options. In between defending his under-funded No Child Left Behind Act, Bush could start talking about how he isn't going to leave any teenager, any 20-something behind.

This isn't the respect we get now, though. We get a hero in Clinton just because he shows up on MTV and admits that, yeah, he smoked pot, too, when he was young. We get Kerry, looking about 100 years old, trying to seem youthful in leather. We get non-partisan voting groups treating us like product-obsessed no-brains.

Offering us respect and consideration does not mean lumping us into the adult bracket. As much as teenagers avow that they, too, are adults, they're not. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove made this mistake in last year's governor election. His address to youth issues in the Jackson Free Press then was qualified with a basic "But this goes for all Mississippians" statement.

Why was he afraid to just talk to youth voters for a minute?

I know this is hard to do because we youth can be self-absorbed, and politicians don't have the time to baby us. But there are a few easy ways to close the gap. First of all, host forums. They don't have to be strictly flashy rock-star parties. Believe it or not, some young people will show up without the promise of free prizes.

Listen to questions; answer them honestly. One of the most widely held youth opinions of politicians is that they're all lying to us. Don't make unreasonable promises, and we won't have the opportunity to be disappointed (and proved correct) later.

Don't pretend that we're something we're not, either. We are not anywhere near Social Security age, and most of us (like it or not) are not interested in abstinence. We want to know what's going to make our city cooler, how we're going to pay for health insurance when most of us have two part-time jobs, neither of which offer insurance.

There are tons of other issues that we are actually interested in (many of which are discussed in Kate Jacobson's article on page 11 and in Street Talks throughout our special section), but the only way to find out is to start communicating with us. And make use of other media—media we pay attention to that are not glossing over issues like MTV and the networks do.

The Internet is a great way to do this, but something more has to be done. After all, Kerry's site does detail an extensive plan of action to decrease college tuition rates. So far this hasn't elicited much, if any, response from young people.

Yes, it is up to politicians to show us, as Howard Dean did, that young voters matter. Incorporate smaller donations into your big plans. Utilize teenagers in street teams dedicated to getting your ideas out.

But young voters (and non-voters, too) need to participate in the closing of this communication gap, as well. We need to go look for those parts of Kerry's Web site that explain how he plans to decrease our college debts. We need to tell politicians and voting groups what exactly that we do want. They can't improve without criticism, so don't be afraid to voice your dissent—and approval, too, when it's warranted.

Casey Parks edited this issue of the Jackson Free Press. She is a senior at Millsaps College.

Previous Comments

ID
69366
Comment

If it makes you feel any better, they don't really give us old folks much in the way of issues to chew on. It's all about fear - we're either gonna get killed by terrorists or contaminated by the godless gays who want to get married. At least they're offering you a stick of gum to vote.

Author
kate
Date
2004-07-28T20:36:04-06:00
ID
69367
Comment

haha! that's true! though i wonder how they feel about letting us godless gays vote

Author
casey
Date
2004-07-29T02:03:58-06:00
ID
69368
Comment

haha! that's true! though i wonder how they feel about letting us godless gays vote

Author
casey
Date
2004-07-29T02:03:59-06:00

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