How Serious is Political Apathy? (TWHP Blog from 6/4/09)
My friend Lauren thinks I’m certifiably insane. She’s threatened to have my head checked, my temperature taken, and to take away the remote. Lauren hates politics; I love them. I love the incessant media coverage, the excitement that comes with pushing for causes and candidates you believe in, things that are bigger than your self. Lauren finds the competitive environment disgusting, but above all, finds the whole thing unbelievably boring. She feels that politics have no real relevance to her every day life, and when we discuss it, she actually makes some fair points – all of them reverting back to the main idea that following and getting involved with politics is simply too time-consuming, and has little payoff.
Lauren is definitely not alone – only 51% of eligible voters aged 18-29 voted in the 2008 general election, up from only 47% in the 2004 general election. And that’s not even considering how low turnout is on years where there isn’t a presidential election – in 2006, only 25% of eligible voters 18-29 turned out to vote.
When someone starts out hating something and finding it irrelevant to their daily lives during a period where their opinions are just beginning to shape themselves, they’re likely going to continue thinking that way for the foreseeable future. Just like I will always despise organic chemistry, Lauren will always despise politics and never understand the real meaning of them, and so will millions of other young women just like her. Combine that apathy with the fact that women are typically more hesitant to put themselves in such a position so open to public critique and common, and you have a small percentage of women who are not only interested in politics and the spotlight, but who are ready and eager to get involved – which is a major contributor to the low percentage of women in public office in the U.S.
So the age-old question stands: how do we get the bored young women of today – my friends and peers – to become the elected officials and engaged citizens of tomorrow? There is, of course, taking advantage of programs which organizations like The White House Project offer – ones that encourage women to get involved not only on the national or state level, which could intimidate some, but on a local or community level as well.
But participation in these programs is purely voluntary. How do you get someone involuntarily and subconsciously involved in politics? A simple Google search for “how to get involved in politics” offers ideas for those willing to really put themselves out there. But what about options for women and girls who are too shy or too busy or not quite ready to run for office, volunteer at local party offices, or become an active voice in community meetings?
How do you make politics such a part of the culture to the point where the transition from citizen to politician or engaged political thinker becomes seamless? It’s certainly not easy to inject a love of something into someone who isn’t interested.
Should we just leave things as they are, and acknowledge the fact that some women will simply never be interested in politics? Or should we take action – and if so, what kind of action should we take? President Barack Obama seemed to have a certain degree of success getting people engaged in little ways – donating $5, sending pre-written e-mails to friends, etcetera. Is that the answer – or is a lasting solution it never that simple?
What are your thoughts – can some of us afford to be apathetic, while others are politically involved, or is it every woman and girl’s duty to become as politically active as possible because of how low the percentage of women in elected office are?
*** From my White House Project Blog: 6/4/09 *** http://leaders.thewhitehouseproject.org/profiles/blog/list?user=3jxqpw07qmliz