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More than voting, true engagement changes world

Nov. 7, 2006

By KATE BOSWELL

Unless you spent the past two months stranded on an island in the Pacific without telephone, radio or Internet, you've probably heard someone talk about the problem of the youth vote.

The problem is, of course, that there really isn't much of one. According to a George Washington University study, only about one-third of voters ages 18 to 24 voted in the last midterm election.

The response to this apathy has been to attempt to persuade the young people of America to vote. There have been numerous Web sites and organizations devoted to this enterprise.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of these groups limit their exhortations to something along the lines of: "Go vote ... and once you've done your bit for democracy and made the world a better place, you can go back to whatever you were doing before campaign season started."

Therein lies the problem with this entire ordeal.

Is voting important?

Yes.

Is my vote going to radically change the world?

Not if it's the only thing I do to change it.

Voting is certainly an important thing, even a vital thing, but I am not sure that it is the most important thing.

It seems to me that movements organized to encourage students to vote sell themselves short by only encouraging students to vote.

Voting works best, works the way it was intended, when it is part of a larger lifestyle of action and engagement in our country.

If elections are only about filling out a piece of paper and then letting the politicians do the rest, then why do so many find the apathy of many of America's youth so upsetting?

The answer is that voting represents more than just filling out a ballot: It represents caring.

One reason some have found the dearth of college-age voters so disturbing is that we are the future. If we are disengaged with our world now, what will happen when we are running the country? Will it take some kind of disaster to jar people out of their apathy, or is political activism something you learn with adulthood, like how to fill out your tax return?

I believe absolutely that my peers and I should vote. I also believe, with equal fervor, that voting is not all we can do nor all we should do. We need to care about our world, both because we live in it and (for those of us who call ourselves Christians) because we are called to it. This caring starts with voting, but it doesn't end there.

I'd like to offer an example of what this engagement with the world looks like. Most of you are probably familiar with the documentary Invisible Children, which tells the story of children in Northern Uganda who are forced to flee their homes nightly to avoid being abducted by the rebel army.

Invisible Children started as the work of three college students doing a film project and, through their compassion and action, has become a nationwide movement on behalf of the victims of this conflict. It is in part due to the political pressure exerted by this and other concerned groups that changes are occurring in Uganda.

What this movement taught me, more than anything, was that it is possible for us to make changes in the world.

It might require a little more of our time than casting a ballot, but ultimately the power to change things is in our hands. All we have to do is care enough to begin.

Kate Boswell is a junior University Scholars major from Longview.