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Youth Engagement in 2012: Subverting the Standard

by Reem Abdou | Swarthmore College

F Posted in: News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: February 13, 2012
Reem Abdou New Reem Abdou

Youth engagement must be sincere. It must be earnest, but not too eager; enthusiastic, but not ostentatious; comprehensible, but not elementary.

In order for Barack Obama’s, Mitt Romney’s, or whoever’s youth engagement effort to work, they must seriously consider the impact such a critical segment of the population can have on election outcomes. The effort must consider that campaign promises, in order to be believed, must be thoughtful and genuine. It must understand pandering to a particular demographic is a transparent ploy, and that what we – the youth – really want to see are unaffected candidates who have a candid, yet reassuring, vision of the country, were they to lead it.

Successful youth engagement efforts are not about capitalist-crusading merchandising schemes that throw condensed slogans on car bumpers and pins on backpacks. They’re not about otherworldly assurances, pledges that the next generation will work as janitors on the moon or that the way to combat illegal immigration is a perverse variation of self-incrimination.

Successful youth engagement efforts are about honesty. They’re about recognizing and honoring the voice of a population that holds the power and potential to overturn the centuries of injustice, dependency and ineffectiveness that our political system breeds.

That means in order for Obama, Romney, or whomever to garner decisive support from this country’s youth, “engagement” must take on an alternate meaning. For candidates and voters alike, it must mean involving the electorate in meaningful and consequential dialogue. It’s not just for votes, but for the sake of free and open exchange of ideas.

Politicians often like to throw around the intimation that most of our country’s citizens do not comprise an educated populace. Therefore, decisions must be made at the bureaucratic level, since the potential for pernicious influences is great once “dumb people” participate in the conversation. But here’s the thing: today’s youth do comprise an educated populace. In fact, today’s youth are, by and large, THE educated populace. Obama recognized this in 2008 and would do well to recognize it in 2012.

I will vote for the first time at the end of this year, along with some 8 million new registered voters between the ages of 18 and 21. I realize this is the most direct way of representation and my vote is not negligible when all is said and done. I’m also aware of the way current candidates have spoken to me — or rather, at me — in these past several months. I realize that, to them, I might just be another vote, just another percentage point in the polls, but I know their possible presidency, their power, is dependent on every single one of those percentage points.

Their debates, their speeches, their “visions for the future and beyond” amount to nothing without these eight million votes, so they must engage me in order to win. They must ask me to join the conversation, to offer my thoughts, to think of my future. They must begin to realize, as I have, that my contribution to the political realm is not only vital, but inevitable.

Reem Abdou Reem Abdou Reem is a sophomore at Swarthmore College where she is also the Opinions Editor for The Phoenix. She is from Fort Lee, New Jersey.

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