Don’t Let Politics Pass You By: The Importance of Political Engagement Amongst Youth

by Ellie Dennis


Political awareness, engagement and activism are as essential among our generation as social media. We are constantly stimulated with news through access to multiple outlets — the information and misinformation is there, yet there is a lack of political mobilization. For certain, among our generation not all will be body painting, protest chanting, sign wielding warriors on the front line for every issue. As many have served witness to my anti-capitalist rants, a “Pussy Grabs Back” shirt featuring Catwoman, the Planned Parenthood and Riots not Diets buttons reflecting off my backpack, and the grimace of a Bernie-less election still across my face, it must be obvious I prefer the aforementioned. Yet, there are alternative means of being “active”: voting, contacting your local and national legislators, contributing to dialogue etc.

There is complacency among the new generation of voters. Our generation seems apathetic to the power we possess as a large body of young intellectuals. It is not a matter actually voting that plagues us as “millennials” but rather the pervasion of uniformed voters, especially now in a society infected by “alternative facts.” I find it a special talent of some to remain complacent and ignorant to our current political climate. I have encountered a number of students – even some of my closest friends – who state boldly that they rather withdraw from any political discussion than listen or learn. We seek our own identities, to differentiate ourselves from our peers and assert that we have something dynamic and worthy of contributing to the world at large, yet we capitalize least upon the most accessible platforms for doing so. First and foremost we must educate ourselves and others; political awareness and involvement combat misinformation and indoctrination. There is, from time to time, trust misplaced in figures and institutions without reflection.

This consciousness is a difficult task that demands both self-reflection and a degree of empathy that is often hard to grasp from a place of privilege — this makes it arguably the most vital tool we have in our arsenal as we seek enlightenment and strive to redefine justice. When you entertain a relationship with politics, it will attack you, all you believe and all you consider true — it will force into perspective your privileges and require you at times to release your own self-interest. This is not a quest for the faint of heart.

It is not easy.

One does not simply walk through injustice and come out victorious — you battle and arm yourselves, preparing for personal attack where you can display your fortitude and skill in defending your own principles. Too many people fear and avoid controversy because it is “uncomfortable,” “doesn’t affect me” or is “someone else’s problem.” But that is how we agitate for change, by making public the discomfort, the pain — to make visceral and visible the suffering in order to correct it.

Many choose the road less traveled, the path of least resistance, to be the uneducated voter or worse, not vote because there is this idea that in our current system our voices are not heard. The legislators, governors, senators, congressmen and presidents, however, may take the path of least resistance too! If we do not challenge them to the things that serve us and others unjustly, if we do not contest the laws, the executive orders, and the decrees that condemn our fellow humans we are giving them smooth sailing to continue to do so. We are creating the path clear of controversy and making it easier. It is easier to ignore two voices than two hundred, easier to silence two hundred voices than two thousand, two million.

Political action, in any form asserts your presence in society, it shouts that you will take up space in the face of those seeking to fool you. Political literacy requires us to hold ourselves accountable to act upon politics rather than taking up the passive role allowing it to act upon us. Engagement is exactly that: an understanding of the mutual responsibility it should have to serving us and us to it.