The day before the election, I met with a group of girls after school. We meet every Monday to discuss issues that are important to them, but we are not an overtly political group, even though women’s rights is a political issue. However, since it was the day before the election, I figured it would be a good time to talk politics with them. None of them are old enough to vote, but they are all definitely old enough to care about their rights as citizens, so I thought it was a great idea to introduce them to politics.
When I told them what we would be discussing throughout the meeting, there were groans. A few girls even brought out their homework to work on while I was talking. I had a whole speech prepared, but seeing and hearing their lack of enthusiasm made me take another direction. I grabbed a whiteboard marker and asked them why they were so uninterested in politics. As they spoke, I started writing their reasons on the board.
After writing down their concerns, this is what emerged:
1. They didn’t want to start an argument by being too political.
I imagine this comes about by seeing many of the adults in their lives argue with each other about who should be President, or by seeing the sheer volume of angry comments their friends and family receive on Facebook when they start a political thread. This is a valid reason for them to be weary of politics; few things get people riled up like a discussion about an election.
However, my question for them was why they were worried about starting an argument. Were they concerned people would hate them? Were they worried they would lose friends? Did they think politics weren’t worth arguing over? As it turns out, it was all of the above, but mostly that they would lose friends over political arguments. When I asked them if politics was the only thing they were worried about starting arguments over, they said they don’t like arguing in general.
To this, I responded that they worried so much about making waves because society expects women not to. If women don’t make waves, and if women don’t vote, who will? When they started to realize that their lack of interest and fear of confrontation would ensure that other people would be making decisions for them down the line, they started to realize the importance of politics in their lives.
2. They are too young to vote.
I could only agree to this, since none of the girls were yet 18. However, they will be old enough to vote in the next election, and if they don’t start paying attention now, how will they keep up with what is happening in the world and what needs to change four years from now? Furthermore, they are clearly interested in women’s rights and women’s issues since they are attending our weekly meetings. They need to use their vote and, more importantly, their voice to make a difference in the world. They might not have a vote, but they do have a voice, and they can share their opinions with those around them and, hopefully, open some minds to new ways of thinking.
3. They are too busy to pay attention.
Like them, I have often felt too busy to pay attention to all of the election coverage out there. Setting aside a chunk of time to watch the debates when I have papers to grade and lessons to plan frankly seemed like an unwelcome intrusion. More than that, posting my opinions to my social networks and receiving angry comments back didn’t seem like the best way to spend my time. (Maybe I, too, was a little afraid of starting an argument.)
However, nothing should be more important to them than the state of our nation. Everything they do, especially in school, is tied to politics. The courses they are required to take, the standardized tests they worry about doing well on, the lunch they eat in the cafeteria – all politics. They might be busy, but it isn’t difficult to stay informed. Just read a few articles a week, or turn on the news for 30 minutes a day. The price they pay for not being informed is far greater than setting aside the homework for a little while.
4. Politics are boring, negative, and full of deception and lies.
Again, I found myself only able to agree with them on this count. I have become frustrated and overwhelmed with the barrage of negative attacks on the television and radio daily. It’s difficult to see anything positive about politics when the campaigns take such a negative turn. I told them that I had often thought about running for office if only just to run a positive campaign, only to realize that I, too, would be attacked by someone else and I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life. It is unfortunate that politics has gotten such a bad reputation, especially among young people. There is hope, though. One of my girls mentioned that she would love to run for office and make a real change in the way people see politicians. I hope she does.
The girls left our meeting energized and excited for the election where they were once bored and frustrated. They might not be able to vote yet, but hopefully this generated a real interest in issues that are important to them, and will remain so for the rest of their lives. I know I’ll see all of them at the polls for the next election, and I hope I’ll see some of their names on the ballot someday.
Photo Credit: League of Women Voters of California