Lacey Smith

The Importance of Starting Young

In Current Events, Politics on January 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

I recently attended a training in advance of the start of the Utah Legislative Session. While I am intimately familiar with the process in Idaho, Utah has it’s quirks – including an asininely short 45 calendar day session – that have made it hard for me to get my arms around.

The training itself was quite good and definitely cleared up a few things for me and it was a great chance to network and meet people in real life I’ve only met on Facebook. However one of the things that struck me was relatively middle aged the participants were. In fact, with a few notable exceptions (including my 15 month old daughter), I may have been the youngest person in attendance.

The very sad fact is that participation and engagement in government is low among “young people” (18-29). While about 45% turned out for the national election in 2012, less than one quarter showed up to vote in the 2010 midterm.

The data is clear that recently eligible voters (young people in their first decade or so of eligibility) are not overwhelmingly active participants in at least one part of the governance process.

This lack of engagement among young adults was played out in reality at this training disturbs me. Of course in very Mormon Utah where I live, many of those who fall into this same demographic are also very busy juggling college education or new careers and, in many cases, young families. It is easy to find an reason why we are not able to find time to vote and are much less able to get engaged in a much more involved process.

However, there are great rewards that come from being one of the few involved.

For example, many, if not most, of my friends sit to the left of me. This is especially true of those in my “peer group” (within a couple of years of my age). It is incredibly rewarding to see the change in opinion that happens when I am able to articulate both the logical and the emotional argument on important topics.

Because I am engaged I am able to make a difference right now. And because I am not the stereotypical “conservative” voice, an “old” person or a talking head, it makes it easier for my friends to consider my words.

Also because I am young and “conservative” I think people tend to underestimate just how powerful and right I can be. It’s great to surprise people!

These examples though are relatively superficial. The real benefit and importance of starting young in politics is that you come to learn and love the system early. You know the ins and outs much better and much sooner than those who are disengaged in their early years and you are therefore able to be more influential over a longer period of time than you would be otherwise.

In other words, you are able to help build the future world you will live in instead of being victimized or limited by the world someone else created for you. And since some policies have long lasting consequences (social security, for example, started as a small program that has evolved over almost 80 years), the policies you help establish will affect generations. If you feel strongly about freedom, taxes, environmental issues, campaign finance, parental rights, education, and almost any other issue, you should be involved right now.

Additionally, you build up good habits early when it is easier to be involved so that when you move across state lines, when life gets incredibly demanding or when you start a family and life makes it tough to take on new things, civic involvement isn’t a new thing. In short, the most valuable benefit of starting young is that it becomes an important part of your lifestyle, one that does not easily become dislodged.

Lastly, a potentially unintended (or perhaps well calculated) consequence to this civically engaged lifestyle is that it will be passed down to your children. So not only are you building your future world, they are building their future world. It’s important that civics are part of your children’s upbringing because if they don’t understand their power to control the world it, and they along with it, will be controlled by someone else.

I’m incredibly thankful that I had parents who taught me the importance of civic engagements so that I can enjoy all the benefits of being involved young.

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