...Or Do You Not Think So Far Ahead?

Out of frustration and hopelessness, our young people have reached the point of no return.
Malcolm X

No more countdowns, no more wondering about ID’s or anticipating the lines, the time to vote has come and the anticipation now moves to watching the results roll in and the electoral college maps fill in. So, while you, me, Michelle, Tagg and millions more are anxiously awaiting to find out who the next President of the United States will be, there’s a large number of the population who can care less. This growing number of constituents has grown either disillusioned or feels disaffected by the politics of the country, that what’s momentous to many of us is microscopic in their grand scheme of things. Or perhaps that’s the issue; there is no big picture for so many living among us.

The 2008 Presidential Election really brought into focus the power of the young voter; the college-aged citizen coming into their own, developing their worldview and for many, having their voices heard for the first time. But what of the disconnected youth? Those who’ve finished high school but have opted out of post-secondary training and have yet to find stable employment, the transient beings who pass through life never knowing what lies ahead, because getting through the day is paramount to their lives? This number has grown since 2008, as nearly 1,000,000 young people between the age of 16 and 2004 have joined the ranks of the disconnected.

By disconnected, I am referring to young people not in school or working; your brother that plays video games all day, your sister who watches “Maury” until her friends come home from work or class. Of the 5.8 million young folks classified as disconnected, 22.5% are African-American, 18.5% Latino; imagine the voting power not going to the polls, because many of these young people don’t see the relationship between voting and their current and probable future situations.

It’s hard for many to draw a correlation between how voting today may aid in a turnaround for them tomorrow, when they feel as though there’s no trickle down to their neighborhoods or households. It’s similar to how those living in poverty didn’t feel as if The Great Recession had reached them, yet more storefronts are abandoned and jobs once considered menial, became desirable as people were forced to humble themselves and pick up work they may have felt either overqualified or superior to.

Opting out of the electoral process is in many cases a submission to your current conditions, because you have abandoned an opportunity to have your say on matters that range from federal to your municipality, chances to vote on Higher Education reform acts, biased criminal justice policies and recreation activities for the youth in your community. Additionally, you’re aiding and abetting the government in burning the bridges out of poverty. The federal investment on programs supporting disconnected youth has been slashed from $15 billion to $3 billion since the late 70’s; the government’s investment in the socioeconomic mobility of its poorest citizens has always been questionable at best, but the appropriating of funds for those who’ve disengaged from the institutional pillars of our society is a figurative foot on the necks of those climbing the ladder of success.

33% of disconnected youth have dropped out of high school and 75% of inmates in state prisons have not earned their diploma. Do we see a connection? Even more, just about $74 billion is spent annually on corrections, while they’re role in rehabilitation has been limited by cuts to training and education programs, so they’ve become breeding grounds for recidivism.  

But I don’t do politics

That’s the most common refrain from those who aren’t voting today and have no intention to ever do so. They don’t “do” politics”. Much in the same way they don’t “do” church, or work or self-improvement, but will be among the first to bitch about the lack of progress they’re making in this thing called life. You see, disconnected youth move on to become disenfranchised adults; the listless individuals we try to dissociate ourselves from, those who’ve watched life pass them by and often make mention about what wasn’t given to them or what they didn’t have. However, when the time necessitated speaking up, many fell mute and allowed the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer to rest in turmoil, as her efforts and those of so many others may have been in vain because so many of us take for the granted the obligation of voting.

Yes, voting is an obligation, not a mere right. We have the right to bear arms, but we should feel duty-bound to vote, to have our say in policy and know we’re represented on all levels of government and feel our best interest is being sought by those we put in the position to do so. Somewhere between what happens when you leave the booth and once an elected official takes office causes much of the breakdown, as those not sophisticated enough to understand the nuances of politics grow frustrated by campaign promises and the outright lies of our presidents, governors, mayors and so on, would rather not be part of process than take a chance in the booth again the next fall and falls to come.

The climate of social and cultural illiteracy is a learned behavior; where does an 18-year-old learn not to vote? Civic disengagement happens in many homes, long before a child is eligible to vote, because the conversation of the positive outcomes of the process is nearly nonexistent. To add, many of our young people are electing not to be involved, because the information is definitely there. When he or she turns on the television, there’s a commercial saying “vote for me”, the same goes for radio. That same teenager logs on to Facebook or Twitter and there’s dialogue about the upcoming election. Yet, somehow he or she is able to tune all of the commotion out and proceed with their fractionalized life, because the audacity to hope was extinguished long before the reality of forever was even a consideration.

When we’re living for today, what does tomorrow matter? I pray you’re planning to vote today or already have. If you don’t, I pray you gain the wisdom to want to change your mind for future elections in an attempt to change your future, because old fools used to be young fools…

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