These kids Have Got Something They Want You to Hear:
My family never talked about politics when I was a kid. And the closest my Mother ever came to being "politically active" was buying a commemorative book about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
My own introduction into politics came during Watergate. I can distinctly remember my sister and I playing on a Slip 'n Slide in our front yard when a neighbor came out to yell at us for making too much noise.
"You two should go home and turn on the television," he scolded us. "Nixon is resigning."
I came of age during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Reagan Presidency. By the time Bill Clinton came into the White House, politics had devolved into a bad reality show where everyone came out the loser. On a policy level, the impact of a working Government escaped me and the very idea of participating in it, pointless.
And therein lies the problem.
Because as all of us here know, it isn't removed from our lives. It's very much a part of our life and our advocacy in it matters. At least that's what I try to convey to my students. Twice a week I tutor young adults for GED Prep who are forever telling me politics is a colossal waste of time. The system is corrupt, politicians lie, and what difference does their vote really make in the end. Nothing is ever going to change.
Engaging in thoughtful dialogue about politics can be tricky, but if I find the opportunity, I try to get them to talk about what matters to them and what is going on in their neighborhoods. Then we talk about which candidates are running in their districts (they usually don't know this, or how government works) and what their platforms are. I sometimes use that for essay writing and homework, and the connections to what kind of programs are being funded in their neighborhoods and which candidates are talking about those things suddenly begins to resonate. It doesn't happen enough, and I wish I could say it happens more, but it always starts with a dialogue about empowerment and how that connects to their lives and their neighborhoods.
Today, I volunteered at a local OFA office here in NYC calling registered voters in Ohio. We had about 7 volunteers, most of whom were under the age of 30 years old and the majority of them were women. I've only done this a few times and every time feels a little awkward at first. But once you get the hang of it and find your rhythm, it gets easier and you become more effective. I had a fairly good day. Reached a respectable number of people, got a few questions about voter I.D.'s, and a few complaints. One woman told me she can't watch T.V. any more because "it's all ads all the time", and another woman told me that if she gets one more of those "awful robots calling me, I'm pulling the plug on the phone." I'm guessing she meant the robo-calls and not a live person like me. But overall, it was positive.
Afterwards, one of the volunteers invited me along with her and a friend to Starbucks. 21 years old and going to college here at CUNY, both had moved here as teenagers from Montenegro. Curious about what made them volunteer for Obama, I posed the question and their answer was quite clear.
"I want a President who wants to help all the people." Yes, I smiled. So do I.
The political conversation veered into, not surprisingly, abortion and contraception, along with an incredulous WTF with all the rape talk? But eventually the conversation made it's way to the future. Their future. As if what they were doing now was laying the groundwork for what was coming later. This prompted me to tell them about the students I tutor and how woefully disengaged they all are, which inevitably brought us to the topic of how the demographics in this country were rapidly changing and how important it was to get the electorate engaged and informed.
We don't teach civics in school anymore and it's a shame because I think everyone should know how our government works and how they can be involved and why that does matter.