"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
On November 4, 2014, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 33 Senate seats, and 38 gubernatorial-ships will be up for grabs. Despite the lazy façade Congress conveys to the world in session, our federal legislators have been hard at work fundraising millions of dollars from super PACs and Special Interest Groups (SIGs). This rapid increase in fundraising coincides with an all-time low in competitive districts as a result of 2010 gerrymandering. This lack of competitiveness perpetuates a cycle of low voter turnout and a decreased sense of political efficacy, especially among younger voters.
As a member of the millennial generation, I see an inherent conflict in the lack of political participation of young people in the political process relative to the extensive power Congress has over determining my generation's future. Congress is deliberating (or rather not deliberating) on key issues for young people, including student loan laws and rates, immigration reform, public education funding and tax reform.
Take student loan debt, a burgeoning issue for our generation, which just this year ballooned to over $1 trillion, with the average debt over $25,000 per graduate. This much debt dispersed over such a wide contingent of our generation will inherently inhibit millennials as we transition into the ruling generation of society. Government services and tax revenues will inevitably decline as long as millennials are burdened with debt and cannot afford to go out and become significant agents in the economic marketplace. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's bill that would set student loan interest rates equal to that of the Federal Government's loans to Wall Street banks has been stalled for months, no doubt due to the influence of SIGs and the cynicism of election year politics.
However, student loans are not the end of politicians' influence over millennials; basic public policy like the annual federal budget, which Senate Republicans refused to even fund last year, directly affects my generation and generations to come through vital programs like funding for public education and job training. Yet, despite the enormous influence these policies have over young people's lives, millennials have the lowest voter turnout of any age demographic. This reckless abstention of their voting responsibility results in the election of incompetent legislators who see no incentive in fighting for constituents who don't even bother to vote.
The election of President Obama in 2008 showed record numbers of young people turning out to vote, but not just for the top of the ticket. The 111th Congress elected in 2009 by a highly engaged youth electorate was considered one of the most productive Congresses since the time of Lyndon Johnson. The 111th Congress saw the passage of landmark legislation, including a stimulus package that saved millions of jobs, meaningful healthcare reform for the first time in decades, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This Congress is in stark contrast to the legislature we elected in 2012, a congress which only 45 percent of young people aged 18-29 actually voted for in the 2012 election. If this is any indication of the turnout for the 2014 midterm elections, my generation is in trouble.
At the end of the day, we as citizens are ultimately responsible for the actions of our democratically elected Congress. The decisions being made right now are affecting our generation. John Zoby wrote in Forbes magazine of the growing might of the millennial generation, declaring "millennials could determine the fate of the Senate." Millennials make up 14-15 percent of the electorate and represent a diverse set of backgrounds that could keep the Democrats' control of the Senate. Our generation is just now beginning to flex its political muscle, forcing politicians to take into consideration the concerns of our generation. However, this can only be done through active participation in the political process, so please, get out and vote on November 4th!