The slacker vote? To many, this sounds like a contradiction in terms. Kids and students only want to hang out and have a good time. They don’t care about politics, right? Politics is a dirty word, bringing to mind vague notions of “the man” and “selling out.” This is the realm of old white men in bad suits, shaking hands behind closed doors, and deciding the fate of the world through obscure rhetoric. Surely, this isn’t a place for young people?
Up until a few years ago, this popular myth of demobilized, apathetic youth was not entirely unjustified. As few as 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the last presidential election. However, this time around, young people are realizing that they have a lot at stake — and they’re ready to fight.
Slackers across the country have become politicized. Youth-led initiatives like VoteMob and the New Voters Project have registered literally hundreds of thousands of young people. Campus groups are running innovative new programs like Democracy in the Quad, where students use free cell phone minutes to mobilize voters in swing states. Young grassroots organizers are making their voices heard coast-to-coast through groups like the League of Pissed-Off Voters. The League’s recent book, “How to Get Stupid White Men out of Office,” tells the stories of young people who have successfully reclaimed power in their community. And Michael Moore himself is headlining a nationwide tour under the banner “Slackers of the World Unite!”
Over the next weeks, Moore will be visiting college campuses in 60 cities across the country. Already, he is selling out arenas of up to 10,000 as students flock to hear this self-proclaimed slacker vent his patriotic indignation at the policies of the Bush administration. As Moore explains in a recent open letter: “I want everyone in their teens and twenties who exist from one packet of Ramen noodles to the next bag of Tostitos to take your fully-justified cynicism and toss it like a Molotov right into the middle of this election. As ‘non-voters’ you have been written off. But if only a few thousand of you vote, it could make all the difference. You literally hold all the power in your hands.”
A record budget deficit, illegal war in Iraq, increasing domestic repression, and cutbacks to vital programs such as federal aid for education are among the major issues compelling youth to get out the vote this year.
As more and more “slackers” are gaining a consciousness of the threat to their future, panic has broken out among the power elite. As reported in a recent New York Times article, students face active and entrenched opposition to their right to vote. Despite a Supreme Court decision allowing students to register from their campus address, a Texas district attorney openly threatened students from Prairie View A&M University who were trying to register there. According to DemocracyNow.org, “When some feminist groups at the University of Arizona kicked off a campus voter registration campaign, Fox News charged that they were aiding out-of-state students in committing felony voter fraud.”
The backlash is intense, as conservative student groups with centralized structures and multi-million-dollar budgets seek to overpower the more diverse and decentralized progressive movement. At the University of Arizona, site of the October 13th presidential debate, repressive hysteria has reached such a fever pitch that a student allegedly reported his professor to the FBI for being “an anti-American communist who hates America.” Most recently, the Michigan Republican Party filed criminal charges against Michael Moore for “bribing” students to vote by rewarding those who register with gag prizes such as clean underwear and Ramen noodles. Such desperate attacks on free speech are an unfortunate side effect of the rising tide of campus politics.
Youth culture has become politicized as well. Across the spectrum, from iconoclastic punk rockers (punkvoter.com) to urban hiphoppers (hiphopactivist.com), political action is being recognized as an important way to reclaim control over our lives. Even Kevin Smith, creator of the archetypal slacker movie “Clerks,” is directing celebrity public service announcements for Comedy Central, urging viewers to vote this November. Perhaps it is a sign of the times.
Like young people of any time or place, we only want to hang out with our friends and enjoy life. But many of us are starting to realize that we can’t really do this if we are being attacked from all sides, denied our rights and a proper education, used as fodder for illegal wars, and stripped of an economically viable future. As Michael Moore would say, we are slackers in revolt. Look for us at the polls this November.
Joe Yannielli is a student activist and a member of the Young Communist League. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.