Reprinted with permission from Creators.
Every student who knocks on my office door on Kent State’s campus has likely noticed the illustrated bumper sticker affixed right above the door handle.
The drawing depicts an older white man of a certain age wearing a suit and glasses and holding a lit pipe. He looks to be of an earlier era. “Mad Men,” maybe, or “Father Knows Best.”
The message, over his right shoulder: “Old people are ruining your life. VOTE.”
Every once in a while, I share a photo of this bumper sticker on my public Facebook wall to spark a discussion about voting. Inevitably, much of the response breaks into two themes:
1. Voting! Yay!
2. Ageism! Shame on you!
To address the second group: No, this is not the same as saying that women, black people or lesbians are ruining America, no matter how many angry right-wing readers claim otherwise, which they do every dang week. No matter what I write about, they find a way to blame women, black people and “the gays.” (P.S. Thanks for reading, folks.)
I am not making fun of old people, unless you count how many times I make fun of myself, which is often. This is basically an act of self-preservation, now that I’m spending so many of my days with young people.
I love when this happens: Last month, a student described a source for a story as “old.”
“What is old?” I asked.
“Old-old,” he said.
“Give me an age.”
I smiled. “I’m 61.”
“Oh,” he said, deadpan. “Sixty-two, then. Let’s say 62.”
If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re going to end up being the punchline.
Recently, after another sub-thread of uproar on Facebook, I asked my students what they thought my bumper sticker meant. They got it, of course. As one of them put it: “You want us to vote.”
I surely do.
Here’s the U.S. Census data on percentages of voter turnout, by age, in the 2016 presidential election:
Age 65 and older: 70.9 percent.
Ages 45 to 64: 66.6 percent.
Ages 30 to 44: 58.7 percent.
Ages 18 to 29: 46.1 percent.
Less than half of America’s youngest voters cast a ballot in 2016. “However,” the Census notes, “in 2016, young voters ages 18 to 29 were the only age group to report increased turnout compared to 2012, with a reported turnout increase of 1.1 percent.”
A whopping 1.1 percent. Pop open the prosecco, and hand it to the nearest 60-something, because our generation is steering the ship of your future.
In this last week before the election, New York magazine has trotted out a story titled, “12 Young People and Why They Probably Won’t Vote.”
Of course, it did. We’ve made it a national pastime to mock millennials.
I resisted reading the story. When a friend who shares my affection for young people posted it on Facebook, I grumpily demurred. Nah-uh. Not reading it. I know too many informed and engaged millennials — from campaign staffs to student journalists in my classroom — to fall for this collection of cliches.
That lasted 24 hours.
So many are eagerly sharing this story. Oh, ho-ho, how they love this confirmation of their favorite stereotypes. These millennials. So pampered. So pathetic.
You know who they are. My people. Baby boomers, bless our bitter little hearts.
As I tell my students, you can find someone to say something stupid on any street corner in America. So often, all they represent are the limitations of their own small minds.
And so there they were.
One 21-year-old quoted in the story: “I had a hectic schedule. I just didn’t have the time and energy” to vote.
Another was apparently perplexed by the complexities of affixing a stamp to an envelope to mail an absentee ballot. “Honestly, if someone had the forms printed for me and was willing to deal with the post office, I’d be much more inclined to vote.”
One more: “Millennials don’t vote because a lot of politicians are appealing to older voters. We deserve politicians that are willing to do stuff for our future instead of catering to people who will not be here for our future.”
How to say this gently. Politicians are appealing to older voters like me because they know you aren’t willing to “do stuff” to hold them accountable.
Stuff like voting.
Here’s the thing: I know a lot of 21-year-olds, and not one of them would say any of these things out loud. They’re smarter than this, and more thoughtful.
But until more of them are voting, we’ll just keep pretending they don’t matter — with our votes.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.