By Robert Berman in Opinion
Trends from Clark College show young people giving in to political apathy.
Political apathy is when people stop paying attention to politics and stop participating in their government.
Apathy is dangerous. The government only represents those who participate in it. When a citizen does not pay attention, protest or vote, they give away the power to make decisions about the law, the economy and the environment.
Youth apathy starts on campus. Three years ago, students elected officers for the Associated Students of Clark College. The ASCC controls $1.6 million in student fees and represents the student voice to the board of trustees and other Clark staff.
Over the last four years of elections, only 325 of Clark’s 16,000 students bothered to vote on average, which is about 2 percent, according to Director of Student Life Sarah Gruhler.
The abysmal turnout rates prompted ASCC to start appointing officers themselves. Now the current officers, the Director of Student Life and four students-at-large are the only people to appoint next year’s ASCC representatives.
It is a challenge to get students involved in the ASCC, said Matt Brown, public relations director for the ASCC. “Most first year students have never even heard of the ASCC, myself included,” he said.
Students carry their poor participation rates out to state elections. According to Tufts University website on civic engagement, 47 percent of 18 to 29-year-old Washingtonians voted in 2012, compared to the 70 percent of voters over 30.
The government only represents those who vote, and young people are not showing up.
Student apathy extends to national issues, too. Take, for example, the current debate over government surveillance sparked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Clark political science professor Michael Ceriello leads a discussion in his American government and politics class each quarter on privacy and government surveillance. He said that 20 years ago, he would hear outrage at the idea of unwarranted surveillance.
Now, the country is increasingly full of what Ceriello calls “digital natives” — people who grew up with the internet. These young people make up a large portion of Clark students. They willingly give up their privacy on Facebook and other social networks daily.
Ceriello said most students show no concern about private information. They respond with, “I’m not doing anything wrong so I’ve got nothing to hide. What do I care if the government is listening to my phone calls or wants to randomly search me if i get pulled over?”
Brown and Ceriello voiced similar theories as to why Americans, specifically young people, pay so little attention to politics.
“Life is very complicated, much more than it was and there are many more distractions,” Ceriello said. “When people are worried about feeding their family, abstract liberties that may not even apply to you are less important.”
Brown also said he thought that community college students have a lot on their plates. They add their school work to the rest of their busy lives, leaving little room in their conscience for student government.
Washington State and Clark College both have taken wide measures to make participation more convenient. Clark even allowed online voting, Gruhler said. Still, low participation rates plague local elections.
People can eliminate this problem easily if they hold themselves accountable. All you need to do is leave behind your celebrity news, or Duck Dynasty, or Call of Duty, and take 10 minutes to educate yourself on an issue. If every Clark student does this once a day and votes when the time comes, this would be the smartest, best represented population of young adults in the country.
Young people cannot follow the trend they are on now. When we choose not to participate in our government, we allow someone else to make the big decisions for us. The ASCC already does it. Will we let the government decide the future of our health care, our education and our security without our voice?