I woke up on Nov. 4 with no intention of voting. It was not ignorance that created my apathy — I had researched all the candidates. I simply didn’t think any of them deserved my vote.
I headed to work at a textile company, a remnant of an industry that provided prosperity to South Carolina until the work was outsourced to Asia and Latin America. My drive to work is not a scenic one. It leads through badly-maintained government-sponsored housing, by the railroad tracks where manufactured goods are shipped across the country and through dilapidated old mill villages. I saw a couple of political signs on Main Street, but other than that, there was no indication that it was Election Day. My surroundings intimated a long-lost hope in the political system.
These feelings of discontent with politics are typical of young people of Generation-Y (those born in the 1980s and 1990s.) According to a recent article in The Economist, more than half of us consider ourselves political independents, and 61 percent of us believe that the government is “inefficient and wasteful.” As a result, fewer than 1 out of every 4 young people voted in the 2010 midterm elections.
Generation-Y does not want more party rhetoric or political gridlock. We are facing real problems, and we want real solutions. In the era of globalization and economic interdependency, we are reliant on an education system that often does not provide us with the means to succeed. Those of us who are given the opportunity to pursue higher education find ourselves facing a dismal job market and often loaded down by college debt after graduation.
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The situation is even more stifling for Generation-Y voters in South Carolina, as one party maintains dominance over the political dialogue. The fate of the elections is decided before we even vote; third parties are simply shut out, and the opposing party wins a few (seemingly obligatory) positions.
So like so many of Generation-Y, I was going about my daily routine, ignoring the political process, when I received a message on Election Day from the family I had lived with as an exchange student in Chile, eager for my opinions on the election.
I remembered back to our conversations lasting deep into the night about the Chilean dictator Agosto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990. Then my mind wandered to other friends who had experienced political disenfranchisement.
One friend from El Salvador was still scarred from his experiences as a child, when the government forced young boys to fight in its civil war. Many of my friends are from Rwanda, where their president was voted into a second term with 93 percent of the popular vote in 2010, with activist groups crying foul. A friend from Iran will face discrimination and difficult job prospects after having chosen to study in the United States. My Peruvian friend’s father had been put on trial for corruption for merely holding a small municipal position under an opposing party’s dominance.
I knew that none of these friends would understand my reasons for not voting. My arguments of being disenchanted with the political system would fall upon unsympathetic ears.
So I voted.
Not because I felt like my vote would or could cause change. Not because I believed that one candidate — or one political party — had the solutions for our problems. I forced myself to vote because of my respect for democracy, for the thousands of years in which women were denied a voice, and for the people living today under autocratic governments or where democracy is defunct.
In the meantime, I long for that day when the political environment of the United States has matured, a day that when I go to vote, I truly feel as if I am actively contributing to the betterment of my country and my state.