Opinion: Don’t take voting for granted


India Yarborough

You might get annoyed, but I’m gonna ask…are you voting in your state’s upcoming midterm election? If not, why?

Weeks ago, I asked a childhood friend of mine the same questions. She proceeded to iterate the too-often issued sentiment “I try to stay out of politics.”

When I hear my peers say they prefer to avoid politics – because “you just can’t trust anybody these days” or “the news media twists everything” – it breaks my heart.

According to a November 2016 report from the Public Broadcasting Service, more than 58 percent of eligible voters in the United States cast their ballots in the most recent presidential election. However, the United States Elections Project revealed less than 45 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 exercised their rights to vote. That was the lowest percentage turnout of any age group.

It frustrates me when capable, educated young adults consider political discussions irrelevant or voting in elections an afterthought.

I was raised to believe a vote is a voice. I was raised to believe access to information is not something that should be taken for granted. I was raised to believe thinking critically about ideas; engaging in thoughtful, fact-driven discussion with people who might not always think like you; and questioning the status-quo are desirable traits of individuals and citizens unified under a democratic political system.

Until I took the time to talk about voting with my friend, I thought she had been raised to believe in these traits, too. I guess that was naïve thinking.

I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase “assume makes an ass out of u and me.” Well, assuming your friends hold certain values will do just that.

I’m not writing this opinion piece to criticize or belittle that friend. I’m telling this story to illustrate how critical one-on-one conversations about news and politics, both local and national, can be.

Ultimately, I hope every single registered voter casts a ballot in this year’s midterm elections – either in person or via absentee – but I know that’s not realistic. Instead, I challenge people of all ages to take a far simpler first step: start a conversation.

It is through face-to-face interaction we begin to break down barriers with people who think differently from us. Tweets, Instagram stories and Facebook comments, though useful, may never prompt the same sort of understanding.

Journalism and politics overlap so unapologetically, and adults of all ages should be conscious consumers of both.

However, consuming such media should not be the end of our political engagement. When coverage ends, conversations should begin.

Talk about candidates’ platforms. Let others know what issues are important to you. Share personal stories that provide context to ideas. And don’t forget to listen.

Those conversations hold so much potential. I may be an optimistic journalist (that’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one), but I truly believe the right words have the power to open minds and influence hearts.

Speak up. Be heard.