By Dean Welliver
I see it everyday on my campus, and it gets worse around this time of year, just a couple weeks out from the June 5 primary election — when young people are asked if they are registered to vote, they almost always respond the same way: “Why should I register to vote? It doesn’t matter anyway.”
Students on my campus turn and walk the other way when asked if they’ve heard of ballot propositions, and dodge petition signature gatherers. For them, voting isn’t a priority.
The data is shocking, if not downright depressing. Despite Millennials representing the largest eligible voting block in California, just 8 percent of eligible voters ages 18-24 in Kern County voted in the mid-term 2014 general election. That number ticked up to 47 percent during the 2016 presidential election.
The biggest myths perpetuated about voting and electoral politics is that our votes don’t matter. Young people hear it everywhere. We see it all over our social media feeds, in newspaper articles, in our homes, and from our peers when the topic is brought up.
What’s most disheartening is hearing it from other folks who are engaged in movements and campaigns to improve our communities.
Saying that our votes don’t matter doesn’t serve to promote justice in our communities, doesn’t serve to create more equitable schools, doesn’t serve to promote more accountability from our elected officials, and doesn’t serve a healthy democracy.
We need to disrupt this myth because it doesn’t serve us or our loved ones. It serves systems of oppression and is a symptom of internalizing oppression that tells youth, people of color, low-income individuals, and folks disheartened by their elected officials’ policy priorities that their voices and beliefs don’t matter.
If voting doesn’t matter, then why did the federal government outlaw voting for people of color and non-property owning white men for the first 100 years of our country’s existence? Why did the government delay women’s right to vote until 1920?
If voting doesn’t matter why did the US government institute poll taxes, intelligence tests, and more obstacles for low-income and people of color to vote?
Why did the Ku Klux Klan terrorize black populations with violence as they tried to cast their ballot? Why today do 18 states require ID to be able to vote, which disenfranchises low-income voters and transgender voters from being able to cast their ballot?
Why make it so hard for various groups of stigmatized people to be able to vote, if voting doesn’t matter?
Voter suppression is an act of oppression, and it highlights that people in power who wish to protect their own power and do harm to other communities seek to limit the ability of voters from marginalized communities to make their voice heard.
The myth that our votes don’t matter is just another act of voter suppression.
But these tactics and threats are not those of yesteryear.
This year, marginalized communities have been under attack from travel bans aimed at Muslims, the end of the DACA program, increased ICE raids, the rollback of educational policies that protect transgender students, budget cuts to medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and limiting women’s choices for reproductive health services.
The people in power who want to pass laws to limit the freedom and prosperity of our communities don’t want us to vote, and every time we repeat that our vote doesn’t matter we spread their propaganda and it distracts us from the tasks that need to be completed, including registering and organizing voters.
With our communities under threat daily, we have to use every tool we can to protect our loved ones, communities, and ourselves from the constant barrage of attacks on our rights and liberties.
Even though the 2018 elections will not see new presidential candidates, it is still important to vote for our congressional representative, county supervisor, district attorney, sheriff, and propositions that can change our day-to-day lives.
There is still plenty of time learn what the candidates in our localities and districts stand for, get registered, register our friends, and get involved in the conversation before the primary election on June 5.