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Actually Rocking the Vote This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Believe it or not, you and I have a lot of untapped power. We are in the most coveted marketing segment, the dream of most large American consumer-centric companies. McDonald's wants us to eat Big Macs. Apple implores us to listen to music on the iPod. Microsoft wants to own our souls. You get the idea.

Descending into the grimy world of politics, the presidential candidates desperately want - and need - your vote. In an election where every vote matters, the candidates need your support just as much as they need the support of a balding, 65-year-old business executive with cash to burn on $2,000-per-plate fundraisers. Well, almost.

Our collective power is tremendous, but we have failed to capitalize on it. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and many other celebrities tell us that it is "sexy" to be a young voter. Companies like Yahoo! and MTV encourage us to "rock the vote," as if registering to vote when we're 18 were nearly as exhilarating as gulping a bottle of Mountain Dew while wearing K-Swiss shoes.

Why should we settle for the privilege of voting? The candidates should have to pander to us, or at least pretend to for a minute. Think about how much time is spent smooth-talking farmers in the Midwest or addressing Cuban-American issues in Miami. The 18-to-24 voting segment is a great deal larger, yet it receives no airtime.

Contrary to what you may believe, your ability to vote is not just a toll-free call into the "American Idol" hotline. Don't just sit back and pick your favorite talking head.

John Kerry has talked about a national service plan for our age group. I would like him to discuss this in more detail. If I'm going to be drafted to dig wells in Afghanistan, fight insurgents in Iraq or take care of people at the local nursing home, I would like to know about it beforehand.

If President Bush wants our vote, he'd better make some real good assurances that we won't be sent to die in Iraq, or anywhere else.

Speaking of military service, let's bring out an old cliché for the sake of argument. You can die for your country at 18, but can't "tap the Rockies" until the ripe old age of 21. You can cast a vote that will decide the direction our nation takes, but Miller Time is off limits for another three years. There's a reason why some gripes have become clichés.

It's also no secret that college costs are out of control. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education recently gave colleges in 36 of the 50 states an F in terms of affordability. In many states, college costs now add up to more than 34 percent of average family income. I don't want my family ending up in a cardboard box so I can get an impressive degree and I'm sure many college students have similar feelings.

Instead of spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, or doling out $400 billion in a Medicare bill designed to make Viagra affordable for grandparents everywhere, this money should be used to create a stronger federal financial aid system.

Until we start demanding that our president addresses some of the issues that matter to us, we have no right to complain. If we just bask in the glory of being able to vote, we will miss out on a crucial opportunity to make the world a better place for us and future generations of college students.

As President Eisenhower once said, "A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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