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Young people think the country's moving in the wrong direction. Will they show up to the polls?

"I voted" stickers by the ballot box at the Boston Public Library. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
"I voted" stickers by the ballot box at the Boston Public Library. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

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“I’m Fana Haile-Selassie. I’m 23 and I will be voting.”

Fana is a deeply engaged voter, but she’s uncommon among young Americans.

More common, are folks like Jarrett Wesley:

 “Until I see more emphasis placed on the issues that affect everyone, I don’t really intend on voting.”

In fact, a new NPR poll found just 14% of young Americans plan to vote in the midterms.

“I feel like the things that matter most to me don’t seem to matter at all to politicians for some reason or another. I don’t know if it has to do with who funds their campaigns,” Wesley says.

You know that Winston Churchill quote about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others? Well, Churchill said more than that. He said:

“Public opinion [should be] expressed by all constitutional means, should shape the actions of ministers who are their servants and not their masters.”

Today, On Point: If young people right now think the country is moving in the wrong direction … why aren’t they voting?

Guests

Fana Haile-Selassie, 23-year-old Georgetown graduate student. Voting in the midterms.

Tinisee Buckman, 33-year-old makeup artist. Not planning to vote in the midterms.

Troy Simpson, 30-years-old navy Veteran. Does not plan to vote.

Interview Highlights

On representation in the midterms

Tinisee Buckman: “I am a Black gay man who is also an immigrant from West Africa. And I feel that even though there are a lot of points being given toward all my categories, I don’t see my age being represented in that. I don’t see a lot of people my age really in office that I can say I can relate to that person. … It’s hard to see myself represented.”

Fana Haile-Selassie: “As someone who also has roots in Africa and many friends who are first generation immigrants, we don’t see people who look like us that are being represented. Particularly in North Carolina and in Georgia I think representation is one of the things motivating me this election. We have women of color running and unprecedented positions in both states. Cheri Beasley for Senate in North Carolina and my Spelman sister, Stacey Abrams in Georgia.

“So that’s the first thing that’s motivating me. And as you mentioned, I’m from Durham, North Carolina. It’s a thriving, cosmopolitan pocket of North Carolina with a rich history of Black entrepreneurship and political activism. But unfortunately, that legacy is being destroyed by rampant gun violence and corporate displacement, which is why I’m more excited than ever to vote in this election and more hopeful, though hesitant about the policies on the table and what’s at stake. Because my family home and my family’s safety are at stake for me.”

On a voter’s political ‘legacy’

Fana Haile-Selassie: “It boils down to legacy. You know, why are some of us motivated to vote and others aren’t? I think it might be free to vote, but it’s expensive to dream. And unfortunately, the American dream has been limited to one ratio and socioeconomic demographic. And part of that dream is the realization of political representation and service. And if you have a large component of a community, for me, it’s young Black voters who have not been able to realize the tangible benefits of political awareness and involvement.

“Then that legacy is tainted. There’s no personal connection and motivation to vote and participate. And then when you consider that legacy, alongside recent attempts to suppress voters rights in states like Georgia and Florida and Iowa, the incentive just isn’t there. Like I said, I’m voting because it’s literally life or death, with the gun violence.”

Tinisee Buckman: “I definitely hear when you speak on legacy. And for me, I have to say growing up in New Jersey, and not being able to really see these politicians come to like an inner-city school that I went to, like Trenton Central High School, and not actually teaching us the proper ways to actually vote and see how we can actually be part of the system and actually grow with our senators and congressmen and also our presidents.

“I don’t really see again that representation clearly. It’s very telling of what they want. They don’t come to the schools and speak to us. So how am I going to grow up and now as an adult, see a senator as someone on my side? You know, as much as I do respect Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, I just don’t think that there were a lot of people back then actually taking their time to give us that breeding, that knowledge so we can go forward and actually be functioning members of democracy.”

On limiting corporate funding in campaigns

Troy Simpson: “One of the things I think we should do is eliminate the corporate funding for corporate finance of campaigns, because I think that much money just muddies the water. I mean, I’ll give you an example. Here in Nebraska, we’ve got two congressmen who are running for reelection or one’s running for reelection, a guy named Don Bacon. He’s a Republican. And the other guy is Vargas, who’s a state legislator, the Democrat. But you know, Don Bacon is frankly what I would call a carpetbagger.

“The guy is not from Nebraska. I don’t think he could tell you a bale of hay from a bale of straw, or an alfalfa field from a milo field. He’s not from Nebraska. He was chosen by the Republican Party as somebody they thought would be electable. And Vargas, I don’t think he could find his way out of Omaha if he didn’t have an iPhone in Interstate 80. So there’s a whole lot more to the state they’re going to represent, but they don’t bother with that because that’s not where the money is.”

If you’re not going to vote, what are you going to do?

Fana Haile-Selassie: “I would say you need to read. Because based on some of the perspectives I’m hearing, they’re not coming from an informed vantage point. I.D. laws have a history of disproportionately affecting low income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly and people with disabilities. That’s something you would know if we read and were well informed. And now we don’t have to just rely on newspapers, like our grandparents every morning, who read the newspapers every morning. You have access to Twitter and other even social media platforms that are utilized by news sources. So if you’re not going to vote, at least read.”

Tinisee Buckman: “When I was asked to be on this panel, I did do a lot of research. I’m like, you know what? Let me read a little bit more about my congressman and the primaries and see what they’re saying and what they stand for. And I’m going to be honest, I found out a lot more information than I usually do most election seasons. And I don’t think there are a lot of generations doing that.

“I also think that we do take our democracy for granted. And, you know, it’s almost becoming, again, like that one lady said, that we sound entitled. We’re majority brats because we are so self-absorbed into our own existence that we forget that the bigger picture is that this country was founded by the people, for the people. And as much as it gets so like muddied, there’s this clout chase that we’re realizing is happening.

“And we as millennials, we are well aware of the power of clout. And so when we see someone trying to, you know, sway our vote, we just think that they just want to for some follows. But we have to really realize that there is more to it. And if we’re not reading or finding deeper meaning behind what they’re pitching, then we’re lost. And we are lost.”

Troy Simpson: “My empathy stems from my experiences in the service. And the fact is, it doesn’t matter who’s in office. You’re still getting sent overseas and you’re still getting shot at. Nothing changes except the color of the dude’s tie.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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