OK

I heard that today - and it was the close to one of the most heartening conversations about politics I've had in a while. I spend a lot of time in activist circles, so my default political discussion is usually about how the system is broken. Today, though, I got a total change of pace from an unexpected source: an apathetic young person.

Details below the pile of spaghetti.

I was with my husband at a cafe for lunch, talking to the barista - we're there often, and are on a first-name basis with most of the staff as a result. This particular barista is in her late teens or early twenties (I'm not entirely sure which), and extremely enthusiastic about all sorts of things; she and I have commiserated on our love of soy milk, for example. Long-winded and tangential conversations are pretty much par for the course, so what started as an inquiry on which sweetener was used in a new blend of chai tea became a reassurance that no, the government is not going to put things in the water just to test their effects on people, and then a brief dissertation on the concentrations of aspartame required to show carcinogenic effects in rats, and so on.

At some point, my husband mentioned the Princeton/Northwestern study that's been making headlines, and summarized the findings: namely, that majority opinion is being outweighed by dollars in the hands of the few.

"And that's why I don't vote," replied our barista.

"Oh, no no no! On the contrary - that's why you should vote."

This cued, of course, the vehement argument on our part that if everybody who felt disenfranchised actually voted, we could change the system so they wouldn't feel so disenfranchised. There was a fair amount of back and forth on the topic; we included helpful tips like the fact that PA is a closed-primary state, so she could choose between registering for a major party and voting in their primaries, or registering independent/third party and getting fewer phone calls and spam letters. I mentioned that I am, in fact, registered to vote under a third party, and that neither of us actually likes the two-party system, but the only way to try and change it is to participate.

Lo and behold, her reply: "Well, now I'm going to register to vote, and I'm going to tell my friends to vote too." Victory! The follow-up comment threw me, though: "I feel dumb."

"Don't," I told her, "a lot of people feel the way you did. It's easy to get bummed out when the system doesn't seem to care about you."

"Oh, no. I love feeling stupid. Because when I feel stupid, it means I've learned something, and I love learning something new."

This was such a perfect response that I did what any mature, responsible adult would in the circumstances: high five!

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