It has been heartening to see young people of different races and ethnicities come together to protest the heinous killing of George Floyd and to demand an end to America’s wanton disregard for the lives of black people. Even behind their COVID-19 era masks, these young Americans are making themselves heard – and not just in Minneapolis or other major cities, but in predominantly white suburbs and rural areas across America. In short, the demand for justice for George Floyd has sparked a movement. But will that movement bear meaningful fruit?
Former President Barack Obama, who kept a low profile through most of Donald Trump’s presidency, has become more visible in the past week, and he is exhorting Americans to exercise their most prized right in order to effect change: voting.
In the 2016 presidential election, voters age 65 and older had a vastly higher rate of participation than did any other age group (70.9 percent). Voters age 18-29 had the lowest voting rates at 46.1 percent. (“Voting in America: A Look at the 2016 Presidential Election, census.gov, May 10, 2017) If young people do not increase that rate, then the words and passion of these protesters will have minimal effect. There is hope, however. The 2016 election saw a small (1.1 percent) increase in voter turnout among the youngest voters.
Yesterday George Floyd was laid to rest, and our nation mourned. Marches and protests continue, but over the next days and weeks, these demonstrations will fade. Those of us of any age who strongly believe that our country needs to move more forcefully to right the wrongs of racial injustice need to keep the momentum of this movement going. And the way to do that is to push citizens to vote.
Voter apathy has given us a slew of career politicians who feel unaccountable to anyone but the lobbyists that line their pockets. Disgruntlement with the political establishment led to the election of the worst president in American history. Meaningful change can only come about if we start holding those in office at every level of government accountable for their actions – or inaction.
So I implore young people to continue pushing for reform, justice, and an end to institutional racism. By all means march and shout and write and exhort. But in the end, do the most important thing: vote.