Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Turn and Face the Change

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And these children that you spit on, as they try to change their worlds ... are immune to your consultations. They're quite aware of what they're going through.

— "Changes," David Bowie

Turn and face the change.

And change is coming, if our democracy can sustain itself through Donald Trump's Tilt-a-Whirl presidency, however long it may last. And I believe the country, as it always has, will inevitably begin to reflect the beliefs and mores of the population that is coming of age. Frankly, the country is theirs for the taking, if they will only take it. And by take it, I mean, vote for the change they want to enact. Historically, young people have done a lousy job of that.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 46 percent of those aged 18 to 29 voted in the 2016 election. Meanwhile, the aging Boomers — 65 and older — voted at a 71 percent rate.

Older voters, for the most part, are more socially conservative, more traditionally religious, and more likely to vote Republican. If more than 70 percent of them vote, it's little wonder our country's political institutions reflect their views to an inordinate degree. And that's been the case for decades: The voting rate for the oldest demographic has skewed higher than the population as a whole.

Meanwhile, the pattern for younger voters — who tend to be much more progressive, especially when it comes to gay rights, immigration reform, pot legalization, and gun laws— has been one of persistently low participation for decades. The younger age group just doesn't vote in the kinds of numbers that can turn an election around.

For example, since 1980, according to U.S. Census numbers, the 18-29 age group has only voted at a (barely) 50 percent rate twice — in 1992 and 2008, when Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were first elected. The average turnout for the youngest demographic is around 42 percent. In mid-term elections, when total turnout drops, young voters sit out at even higher rates.

Obviously, 2018 is a mid-term election year, which bodes poorly for young-voter turnout, unless they walk the talk — as they did around the country last weekend — and take it into a voting booth. Otherwise, it's just more reality television, another blip in the chaotic Whack-A-Mole news-cycle we're stuck in with the current administration.

But I give the young folks who've been motivated by the Parkland shooting full credit for their perseverance so far — and for their fearlessness in calling out the NRA and its apologists. That's bold stuff and long overdue. The NRA has been getting away with its bullying tactics for decades. It is currently an organization that its founders wouldn't recognize: tax-exempt, resistant to any form of firearm regulation, and responsible for pouring $54 million into the 2016 election cycle, $30 million of it going to Donald Trump. It's even managed to bully Congress into banning research on causes of gun violence. The NRA is out of touch and out of sync with most of the country.

As evidence, I offer a Fox News(!) poll conducted last week, in which 91 percent of Americans surveyed favored universal background checks; 72 percent favored mental-health screening for gun buyers; and 60 percent favored banning "assault weapons."

The NRA claims five million members, but most recent estimates put that number at around three million. That's less than one percent of the U.S. population. Even if all those NRA members opposed common-sense gun regulations, which is unlikely, that one percent of the population should not be setting the nation's gun policies. If the country's youngest citizens can mobilize and turn this issue around at the voting booth, they will have accomplished all we could ask of any generation. Their legacy will be secure. A hopeful nation awaits.

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