The Potential of Politics – Generation Justice

The election results from last Tuesday exemplify how a combination of money and cynicism can transform our country overnight. 3.67 billion dollars went into this year’s midterm elections – a new all-time high. The trouble is, behind all the advertisements and campaigns, the actual political positions of the candidates were anything but definitive, and the ballot was still confusing. I’m watching the results on that Tuesday night, slowly seeing more and more red on my TV screen. Republicans gaining more control across the country. Their ideals are against everything I stand for, my family stands for, my community stands for. Their encouragement of war, personal wealth, colorblind racism, and our patriarchal society seem to be their core values. How does this happen? How is this progress?

First of all, I am a millennial, and I am proud. I do not let the media brainwash me into believing that I’m a member of a narcissistic, ignorant, lazy generation. I’m tired of seeing millennials thrown under the bus for being “misinformed” or for not showing up to the polls. Before the blame gets put on us, let’s look at what the government looks like to us. We’ve seen war for more than half of our lives, we’ve seen the extreme increase of campaigning ever since Citizens United, and we’ve seen Obama put under extreme scrutiny even though most of his term has been a congressional gridlock. It’s a political dance, and we recognize that. Not to mention the pre-election flood of sensational, misguided news about ISIS, ebola, etc. No wonder Obama’s inaugural “Hope” and “We Can Do It” campaigns were so successful, especially with the youth vote – finally we could find somebody who didn’t try to leverage our anxieties.

An important part of mid-term elections is how much lower the voter turnout is compared to the presidential elections. It’s a lower voter turnout in general, and specifically this year, the lowest since World War II. Especially for the youth vote, but contrary to what the media argues, the youth vote this year was the same as the youth vote the last midterm election. We did go to the polls. Granted, our numbers still need to increase, but our cynicism seems to be the barrier – not this myth of “ignorance.” However, the reason why midterms are so crucial is because the local state government has a much higher chance of actually passing legislation and creating real impacts on our lives. If our government only reflects a mere 40% of our population, if that, how can we expect to have our voices truly heard?

I’ve struggled with cynicism and questioned whether voting in a broken system will actually creates change. My biggest disappointment was seeing that our low New Mexico turnout gave Susana Martinez a re-election and gave the GOP more seats in the House then they’ve had in over 60 years. Susana Martinez has been in the national spotlight not only as a Republican hero but also for her recorded petty comments that put her in the same ranks as Sarah Palin.

Susana Martinez’s comments assure me that there’s a different Susana that we see in the public eye rather than behind closed doors. Her intentions aren’t genuine, and therefore this will have consequences on our state. If she misunderstands and denies the importance of education and teachers, then our education systems will continue to be misled and undervalued. As a young woman of color, I want to look up to Susana. I want to be proud that she is the first Latina governor. Instead, I feel threatened. Her policies do not value youth, the undocumented, people of color, or women’s rights. I think she plays the political game well, rallying up the support of her own political party – and leaving New Mexico to the highest bidder.  

The frustration with the general political atmosphere is something that creates youth to tune it out – to lose faith in institutionalized change. They look for other ways to outreach, on a more personal level, where money and jargon don’t get in the way. Even on the ballot, there’s entire constitutional amendments and advisory questions, all cramped into one over-simplified sentence. The voting process may be a national ritual, and it may require some research, but it is a truly life changing tool and it needs to be more accessible.

Voters have enough to be discouraged about, let alone wait times and manipulative advertising. That’s yet another negative impact on the electoral process – there’s less of something to stand for, and more of something to stand against. This negative outlook on politics lacks inspiration. It’s hard when you vote, and you feel like you’re simply voting for the lesser of two evils. You feel like you’re doing your job to keep certain politicians out instead of welcoming hopeful, motivated politicians in.

My generation sees the blurring the lines between money, power, and justice. We’re still out there, organizing our movement. We’re producing our own opinions, and not being fed by the mainstream media and political pundits. We seem to be forgotten in campaign advertisements and in political rallies. If we not forgotten, we’re tokenized. But that makes us powerful, and that makes us even more thoughtful about who we vote for. I believe that change is coming, and when it does, they’ll be surprised with the potential that we had all along.

(photo credits: Denise Womack-Avila, J E Theriot, and PBS News Hour)