In the midst of countless Brown students eagerly mailing their absentee ballots to their home states, the energy surrounding the midterm elections these past few weeks has been palpable. Indeed, this election cycle was distinctive. Since June 2015, when President Trump first announced his presidential campaign, his careless conduct and demagogic rhetoric have fueled political resistance among a number of groups, including but not limited to Latinx immigrants, Native Americans and women. As the idea of “President Trump” became more and more realistic over the course of the 2016 campaign, many were shocked and appalled that a celebrity-turned-politician whose inflammatory statements constantly made headlines could stand a legitimate chance in the race. With a unified Republican Congress, Trump has continued to incite progressives to actively resist his administration following the shocking 2016 election. In just the last month, Trump has threatened the protection of civil rights for transgender Americans, proposed the end of birthright citizenship and succeeded in confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. On Election Day, those of us who have vehemently opposed the administration finally had an opportunity to channel our dissatisfaction by tangibly changing the composition of Congress.
Many get-out-the-vote movements during this election cycle have targeted young people, a demographic which generally tends to possess liberal ideals and could therefore make a major contribution to changing Congress. We have seen movements to increase voter turnout both nationwide and locally on Brown’s campus. A number of celebrities, like Taylor Swift, Travis Scott, Yara Shahidi, Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey and Brown alum Tracee Ellis Ross ’94 have stepped onto the political scene to encourage more eligible voters to get to the polls on Nov. 6. On campus, the student group ThoughtsPrayersAction and the Brown Progressive Action Committee hosted a phone-banking event last Monday to support black gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, Ben Jealous and Mayor Andrew Gillum. ThoughtsPrayersAction also hosted an event titled “Enough is Enough: Why I’m Voting” where participants shared the reasons why they would be voting in this midterm election and made posters sharing their messages.
Exercising the right to vote is fundamental to the proper functioning of our democracy, which is why these efforts to inspire higher turnout are absolutely necessary. According to an analysis by the Atlantic, the number of early voters ages 18 to 29 rose 188 percent in this year’s midterms compared to the 2014 midterms. However, while I, too, am grateful for the “blue wave” into the House of Representatives, I am also frustrated by the reactive nature of our outpouring of political enthusiasm. Following the presidential election in 2008, census data showed an increase in youth voter turnout, possibly as a repercussion of the overwhelmingly low approval rating of former President George W. Bush which reinforced the push to elect a Democrat. In 2012, however, just 38 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds voted in the presidential election. Furthermore, data from The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement show that a record low of just 20 percent of 18 to 29 year olds voted in the 2014 midterm election, which is perhaps a consequence of feeling insulated from adversity by a Democratic president. In 2016, Hillary Clinton suffered defeat partly because people of color and young people were not galvanized to vote in the same way that they were in the case of former president Barack Obama. It is clear that the youth population had been disengaged from the political process until recently. Today’s movement to be more involved reveals one step of a vicious cycle in which young people neglect to vote, government officials are elected who do not reflect their preferences and these same politicians consequently enact either unfavorable policies or none at all. We then unite in protest against a callous government until we manage to elect candidates whose views align with ours. Finally, we settle into a false sense of security, once again disengaged from political process, and the cycle repeats.
On Tuesday night, Democrats celebrated achieving a majority in the House of Representatives. However, given the widened Republican majority in the Senate, perhaps young people will continue to stay engaged until a blue wave takes this half of Congress. Nevertheless, our motivation to pay attention to politics should not be contingent on unseating our opponents. If we college students truly want our voices to be heard, it is not enough to merely resist only once things spiral out of control. If we rally together to advocate for our ideals only when they face an explicit threat, it is already too late. No matter who is in power, we must take proactive rather than reactive measures toward ensuring that our preferences are acted upon. What will we do now that we have succeeded in electing a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives? Looking to the future, how will we act if a progressive candidate replaces Trump in 2020? Either we submit to comfort and complacency or continue to be vigilant. The choice is ours.
Jordan Allums ’21 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.