Monday, August 6, 2012

Daily Democracy

Although it’s the last week this week, I am planning to write another blog once it’s really the end of the internship. There are so many people I want to thank, but I’m going to wait until the end of this week for that. For now, I have one more topic I wanted to talk about which is youth and disability voting.

On Saturday, my roommates and I had a wonderful dinner with my mentor, Yoshiko. I am so fortunate to have her as my mentor and to be able to learn from her great work and advocacy. She has such a passion for youth involvement in the disability rights movement. At dinner, she talked about the importance of voting.

Youth historically have a low voting turn-out and low participation in the democratic system. I know many young people who are dissatisfied with the current political system, who feel like nothing changes in government. Although change is slow and sometimes we move backwards, if we want to change our world for the better, political and social participation is vitally important. Disengagement does not foster change. Involvement and empowerment do.

In the 2008 election, 51.1% of citizens aged 18-29 voted. This is an increase from 1996 and 2000, when youth voting was at an all-time low. Yet half of all youth eligible to vote did not go to the polls in 2008. The numbers are even lower when you look at state and local elections. Polls suggest that the youth vote in the 2012 Presidential election will go down. We've got about three months to turn those numbers around. It is vitally important that we vote in elections. We're voting about our future and if we don’t participate, we’re the ones that will have to deal with the consequences the longest.

People with disabilities are also a huge voting bloc, yet we are underestimated. According to various studies, nearly 15 million Americans with Disabilities voted in the 2008 Presidential election. This was a rise in voting for the disability community, but there are 54 million Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities make up 19% of the US population, yet our voice is not as powerful as it should be, given our numbers. While there are still challenges with voting places being inaccessible, states and advocacy groups are working to make voting more accessible. We must empower our community and show that we are a force that needs to be listened to. We need to support candidates that address our interests and our issues.

From this summer, I have learned the importance of advocating for issues that matter to me. We should all educate ourselves about bills and policies that will affect us and our communities. This means contacting our Congressmen. It means caring about who is running for Governor, for State Congressmen, for City Council and Town Meeting Member. It means making calls, sending emails, advocating and lobbying.

In closing I will quote Justin Dart Jr., who wrote, "Vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does." Decisions are made by those who show up. If you don't vote, advocate, and make your voice heard, the issues you care about will not be addressed. Candidates listen to those who vote and those who speak up. We've got an important election coming up in November. Make sure you're registered and make sure your friends and family are too. For those who are working or going to school away from home, be sure to apply for your absentee ballot.

But don’t forget that spirit of empowerment once you fill out your ballot. Democracy doesn’t come around every four years. It can and should be a part of our lives every day.

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