Be proactive in shaping your future

By By Jim Matheson

By Jim Matheson

If you are taking the time to read this column from an elected official, you probably haven’t hit the academic racetrack just yet. Once the rigors of Fall Semester hit, reading anything besides a textbook will be a luxury.

That’s why I wanted to talk now-in this off-election year-about why I think a college education and political involvement go hand in hand.

Along with investing in your education, I believe you should invest in democracy-by making a commitment to participate in the political process. Some of you have already done so. You have registered to vote, volunteered on a political campaign, attended a town meeting or community round table discussion, even attended a state political convention. But nationally, young adults not registered to vote make up 33 percent of the potential electorate.

A recent national survey of 18- to 24-year-olds revealed the following:

* Younger respondents are more likely to believe that voting is something older people do and that politicians care more about the votes of older people.

* Those least likely to be registered to vote are aged 18-20, independents and moderates.

* Participants say the major reasons why young adults do not vote is lack of information about the candidates and issues, apathy, a lack of time or interest and feeling that one vote will not make a difference.

Citizens certainly do have the right not to vote, whether motivated by apathy or disenchantment. However, regardless of anyone’s decision to vote or not vote, whoever is elected represents all constituents-all of whom will be bound by that representative’s decisions.

I believe strongly that it matters who we choose to represent us. I grew up in a family where politics was an avid topic of discussion around the family dinner table. We learned that when you are lucky enough to be part of a free and open society, with rights and privileges not available in many other nations, it is important to give something back.

Running for elected office isn’t the only option. Since I have served in Congress, I have had the good fortune to work with hundreds of energetic young people on issues such as: college scholarships and federal loans, internships with government agencies, applications to U.S. military academies, volunteer opportunities with AmeriCorps and research into health issues such as birth defects, juvenile diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The decisions made by your political representatives today will have a significant effect on your life. Right now, issues like student financial aid, university research and transportation directly affect you. Efforts to promote good schools, safe communities and environmental protections will affect your quality of life. The current massive buildup of federal debt will affect you for the rest of your lives. Your voices should be heard on all of these issues.

If it hasn’t yet become second nature to actively participate in the political process, college is a great place to start. At the U, Young Democrats and Young Republicans usually set up voter registration tables during the course of the school year, making it easy to register. If you are registered to vote in another part of Utah, or in another state, they can help with absentee ballot requests.

One outcome of lower voter participation can be seen in the increasingly polarized stands taken by candidates within the two major political parties. When only the ideologues participate, it makes for highly charged campaign rhetoric, but not much real-world progress on vital issues such as the economy, health care and education. Greater participation by what I call “the radical center” may force politicians to take a more balanced, bipartisan position in order to achieve progress. Our democracy works best when more people are engaged in the process.

As the newest generation of voters, make your representatives accountable to your concerns. Encourage your friends to get involved. Hold discussions about the issues of the day. You’ve probably heard the expression, “The world is run by the people who show up.” Right now, political observers don’t think you’re going to show up next year.

Albert Camus said, “Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” My challenge to you, as you begin the academic year, is to get involved and change your world for the better.

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