Youth have big stake in 2004 elections

Young people are registering to vote in record numbers. It’s true — our vote matters.

Young people are organizing to let politicians know that they can’t take our vote for granted. From traditional student organizations like the U.S. Students Association, which has given staff support to 20 key campuses in swing states, to new groups like the League of Pissed Off Voters and Vote Mob, which are forming youth voter blocs and training young people to hit the streets and go door-to-door, young people are out there with incredible force.

This is a generation of political activists that isn’t just testing their parent’s traditional get-out-the-vote methods. Youth activists are trying new ways of talking about the issues and registering our peers. This year the National Hip Hop Political Convention united hundreds of hip-hop heads to take on the elections, mobilize the hip-hop community and bring the issues that matter most to the forefront.

Never before has our generation seen this much energy and creativity go into registering, educating and mobilizing young voters. There’s a buzz out there, and while they may not ask us our opinions when they poll likely voters, there is evidence that of all the new registered youth, more are likely to vote for Kerry than for Bush.

Still, there are some who prefer to sit out these elections because “the Republicans and Democrats are the same.” Even when recognizing the disastrous effect that Bush has had in just four years, they make the outrageous claim that if Bush wins it will help us to raise consciousness and “teach” people about the true nature of capitalism.

This view is shortsighted and irresponsible. It is a view that endangers the lives of millions of people in our own country and around the world with another Bush term. This view leaves its proponents preaching from the sidelines of the huge anti-Bush upsurge, which keeps on marching forward even as they dismiss it.

The problem with some of these isolated forces is that they miss the point of these elections. No one is saying that electing Kerry will mean that all of our dreams for a new society will come true on Nov. 3. But let’s not go too far the other way and pretend that the similarities between the Democratic and Republican parties are so great that a war with Iraq would have been inevitable.

Bush has been more destructive to our generation than Gore would have been — and this isn’t just in terms of war and peace.

Don’t believe me? Ask the thousands of grad students who lost their right to organize when their case went before a Bush-appointed National Labor Relations Board. So grad students are too old to be considered “youth”? Well, we can bet that the Democrats wouldn’t have submitted a brief to the Supreme Court in support of those in Michigan who were trying to do away with affirmative action.

How do we want to spend our next four years? Will we spend them fighting to defend what rights and social programs remain after four years of right-wing attacks from the Republican-controlled Congress and White House? Or will we begin to hold politicians accountable and advance a people’s agenda — an agenda that will expand opportunities and rights and start to build a healthy future for our generation? Under Kerry, we will have more room to actually start making some real change and demanding progress.

Some will ask the question — so what happens on Nov. 3 if we win on Nov. 2? What happens to all of those young people who’ve been energized by this upsurge of interest in the political system?

That is a question that we have to be ready to answer and, of course, the answer depends on us. We must build a strong, broad and united youth and student movement in order to effectively exercise our power at the ballot box, on campuses and in the streets. Working in coalition with labor, women, people of color and the people’s movements, we will take back control of our country.

Jessie Marshall is one of the national co-coordinators of the Young Communist League USA. She can be reached at jessie@yclusa.org