Recently, a friend of mine told me a story. The subject of this story was his older sister and her apathy towards all things political — he had tried to engage her and the rest of his family in serious discussions about public policy and government figureheads, but she simply refused to entertain it, and told him that she probably wouldn’t even be voting in the upcoming presidential election. If I remember correctly, the story ended with her turning her attention back to the latest episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians. Simple enough.
I’m not a particularly political person myself, but the thought of an educated young adult passing up the opportunity to vote really bothered me — opportunity being the operative word. Notice that choice, feel its weight. And remember this: the opportunityto vote is not a universal one. We get a say in who becomes our next leader, and that makes us the improbably fortunate.
I’ll tell you flat-out that I didn’t write this as a ploy to incite young voters — if you don’t care about the election, about the future of the country in which you live, so be it. But, like all things, this decision carries its share of implications. So maybe you should at least consider what you’re doing (or not doing).
It’s no headline news that many of today’s young Americans tend to take their circumstances for granted. Without the pressing threat of a draft, a civil war, a state of national panic, etc., people have fallen into a trap of considering their personal freedoms untouchable entities, fixtures that will surely remain unchanged forever.
Well, don’t get too comfortable.
“We have no unquantifiable right to freedom,” warns 1963 Nobel laureate John Eccles, “We are only entitled to freedom insofar as we fulfill the duties of respecting and living up to the freedom we already have.” He goes on to explain how the state of our libertydepends entirely upon how we choose to treat it — for example, freedom of the press would have to be restricted if writers and editors decided that it would be fun to lie to their readers. Alternatively, he believes that the way to strengthen and expand these freedoms is by applying a personal moral code to the opportunities they present. (Again: opportunities.) Speak or write about your opinion. Sign a petition. Vote for the best candidate.
I’m asking you to realize your own power: we are in the unique position of being able to safely, actively attempt to improve our environment. Because of this, we’re obligated to do so.
But maybe this is all getting a little too hypothetical. Consider this: In 1968, a 19-year-old named Paul Robert Cohen was arrested inside the Los Angeles Courthouse for wearing a jacket with the phrase “Fuck the Draft” printed across the back. His case was brought all the way to the Supreme Court, and guess what? Because of the freedom of expression lent to him by this country, he won. How remarkable is that? Cohen had something to say, and he pushed his rights to their absolute limits in order to say it. And now, more than 40 years later, all of you wearing your obscenity-bearing Urban Outfitters t-shirts still have him to thank.
What will we be thanked for?