The Internet, Politics, News

Stop blaming young people for the voting problem in this country

New ways to condescend to the ‘vapid nonvoter’ are invented everyday: maybe being a dick isn’t helping.

While most voter registration deadlines have just past, midterms are coming up, and if you’ve been on the Internet in the last few weeks you’ve no doubt happened upon a ‘register to vote’ website.  You just as likely may have had one forced upon you while looking to indulge in harmless celebrity gossip.

In the last few weeks, Twitter personalities, celebrities, and online magazines have tweeted out clickbait in order to trick people into visiting a voter registration page. Brief tweets claiming dramatic celebrity life events, like a Kimye divorce, lead to inevitably disappointing landing pages about civic engagement. The Splinter’s Katherine Krueger writes, “My immediate reaction, as a dipshit who cares enough about Kim and Kanye news to click, was something akin to disappointment—a troubling feeling to associate with registering to vote, which should be inherently good.”

The Rickrolling voting meme is perhaps harmless, but genuinely irritating and potentially alienating. The assumption of its purveyors is that nonvoters are vapid and uncaring of the larger society, and that stupid and inconsequential celebrity news is an assuredly successful lure for such ignorant masses.

The belief is people who do not vote have no interest in public policy, or state violence—they are blindly distracted by useless celebrity news. Click To Tweet

Except, indulging in low-stakes and sometimes funny or weird gossip is…something most people do and shouldn’t really feel ashamed about. I already registered to vote, and I also want to know the details of Ariana Grande’s breakup because I’m nosy and enjoy wasting some of my time!

The implied audience is younger people, who predominantly follow ultimately meaningless interactions between famous people and are regularly accused of civic disengagement, the death of expensive boomer shit, and the current state of the world. These sites assume that young voters don’t care at all about voting. We do, but the issue is more complex – voting is not as straightforward as one would wish, and we’re operating under a system that thrives on voter suppression.

And while yes, 34 percent of nonvoters are in their 20s, this rickrolling ignores that voter suppression regularly targets communities that are abused on all ends of the political spectrum. Not everyone has the ability to bureaucratically battle against a system that might still elect a fascist.

Nonvoters are less affluent than likely voters, with almost 50 percent of nonvoters families living on less than $30,000 a year. Not to mention 43 percent of nonvoters are people of color, compared to 22 percent of likely voters that identify as a racial or ethnic minority. How interesting that the very Good People who vote so much are largely responsible for the violence voting will supposedly fix!

When I registered to vote, I had to find a printer, pick up my slip, buy a stamp and envelope, and mail it in. In maybe a month, I’ll find out if my papers went through or not. Fourteen states don’t allow online voter registration, including more elastic states like New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Michigan. Even online voter registration, which makes the simple act of getting permission to vote, requires an eligible state I.D.—documents that can be notoriously difficult to acquire.

Only 16 states offer preregistration, portable registration, or election day correction should the confusing labyrinth of registration lead to errors. Election day is usually on a Tuesday and not a federal holiday, meaning time off work to vote is mostly left up to employers. Guess who is more likely to have to fight against a wall to vote? People with who need the income! If you happen to live in Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, or Puerto Rico, you are conveniently an American citizen without the right to vote! So are the 2.3 million incarcerated people in U.S. prisons.

And if you do live in the mainland, you are subject to policy measures like gerrymandering, voter suppression, the absence of instant runoff, the Federal Reserve, the accepted practices of lobbyists, the Electoral College, and the Senate—all of which exist to skew government representation away from democratic decision-making.

The simple fact is that it’s much easier to blame youth disengagement for the Trump administration—and all of the very not-new American issues like mass incarceration, imperialism, neoliberal austerity, and climate change—than to recognize there is a much deeper and inherent problem in America. Voting is not enough, because it was built to favor existing American powers and disempower those who cannot always conjure the will to fight against a wall.

It's much easier to blame youth disengagement for the Trump administration than to recognize there is a much deeper and inherent problem in America. Click To Tweet

Non-voting communities have always been on the front lines of social movements, and are often the most at-risk from rich, white people. Believing they’re politically disengaged couldn’t be further from the truth. Rickrolling is stale, and certainly, patronizing ‘nonvoters’ has not produced a clever or particularly creative revival.

So, if you are able to vote this midterm election – please do. And stand in solidarity with those who cannot.