Youth gear up for 2002 elections

Commentary

All across the country youth are gearing up for the November elections. They are forming broad-based coalitions on campuses and working with community, religious and labor organizations to register students and young workers to vote.

Many youth see the November elections as a possible turning point, and an opportunity to stop attacks on the right to an education. As the Bush administration shifts money to tax breaks for the rich and an increased military budget, there have been drastic cuts to federal funding of financial aid and early education outreach programs. Campuses everywhere are facing budget cuts, and, as a direct result, tuition is rising.

Youth, who are in many ways the most energetic, enthusiastic and willing to rock the boat, understand that democracy is about participation. Youth must participate in the democratic process if their needs and issues are to be addressed.

There are 64 million Americans between the age of 18 and 34 eligible to vote. Of the 32 million who are registered, nearly 25 million vote. With these numbers, youth can make a profound impact on the outcome of the November elections.

The youth vote can play a very strategic role. Youth are in a unique position to directly influence a shift in the balance of forces, a shift towards more funding for social programs like education.

One of the largest student organizations in the country, the United States Student Association (USSA) has made education and student voter turnout a priority. USSA clearly understands the relationship between access to higher education and who’s in office. USSA believes that any real democratic system relies on an educated population. And anything that keeps youth out of classrooms also undermines democracy.

Portia Pedro, director of organizing for USSA, told the World that many youth are faced with a cycle of neglect. “Most politicians don’t talk about student issues. So a lot of students don’t vote. If we do vote, though, politicians have to talk about our issues. Our vote can push them to make a change.” Pedro added that students should do more than vote. They need to “lobby as students, for student issues.”

Another youth organization prioritizing the role of students and young workers in the elections is the Young Communist League (YCL). Libero Della Piana, National Coordinator of the YCL, stressed the importance of students and young workers getting registered and voting this fall, adding that a record number of youth voted in the 2000 elections. But, Della Piana said, “Many youth felt like their voices were invalidated, thrown out in the 2000 elections. The stealing of the elections was a real shock.”

Many voices, especially youth of color, are systematically disenfranchised from the democratic process. By policy or in practice, thousands of youth, students and young workers have been denied their constitutional right to vote. On many occasions students have been turned away from the voting booth because the address on their driver’s license is different than the address they are registered under. This creates an especially difficult situation for out-of-state college students.

“Youth tend to vote more progressively,” Della Piana continued, “and a defeat for Bush and the GOP will set the tone for the next period.”

The results of the November elections, with broad-based youth participation, can lay the groundwork for a resurgent people’s movement against the rightwing. A united front of student, community, religious and labor organizations can mobilize enough votes to elect congressional and senatorial candidates that support working-class issues like education.

Tony Pecinovsky is a writer for Dynamic. He can be reached at tonpec2000@yahoo.com