Using your rights

Making your voice heard is your right

…but with it comes responsibility

by Brigid Kelly

Talon staff writer

We know how to listen, think and communicate – some of us have been taught how to use these skills for up to 18 years. Whether it’s a discussion at the dinner table, talking about the math test at lunch or asking a teacher a question, we’ve been taught effective ways to convey our thoughts and hear the ideas of others. But take a step back and ask yourself, how have you been using these valuable features of life, and have you been using them to their fullest extent?

The answer for most people is no. As a citizen of the United States, people have been given the right to make our voice heard through numerous outlets. Our generation is more connected than any previous age group thanks to online networks like Facebook and Twitter. We have revolutionized the idea of communication – now let’s use that to our advantage. Let’s use that for something that matters. Let’s use that by exercising our right to vote.

As a high schooler, your opportunity is fast approaching. In the last midterm election, Minnesota claimed the second highest young voter turnout and now it’s your turn to contribute to that number.

“Though each vote is only a drop in the bucket,” said senior Alex Peterson, “without drops the bucket would be empty.”

Taking a step further is where the challenge comes into play. Part of being an American citizen is taking on the duty of being informed.

“It is your job as a voting citizen in a democracy,” said Ramsey Country Juvenile Drug Court Judge Gary Bastian “to find out about the people on the ballot and then make an informed decision about those candidates that best represent your values.”

History and government teacher Matthew Ridenour emphasized the importance of getting an educated perspective.

“In my view the biggest problem in American politics isn’t voter apathy but voter ignorance,” explained Ridenour. “Therefore, I feel strongly that one shouldn’t vote unless they have a working knowledge of the process and the candidates.”

Why should you care? Staying informed means research and effort – extra time considering and interpreting the news and daily events. Is it really worth it?

“It’s complacency that leads to things like the Holocaust and civil rights abuses,” said history teacher Elizabeth VanPilsum. “If people do not become part of the process then they are forfeiting their rights and duties as a citizen to ensure that all people are respected and heard.”

If that doesn’t give you incentive to be informed, think of it this way. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), political campaigns feel that they should not waste resources targeting the younger vote. As a high school-age individual, do what you do best – do the unpredictable, the unexpected. Surprise the candidates and cast your educated vote.

Also recognize that the decisions made now will affect your future in some way. It might not be tomorrow, but come high school graduation, college graduation and beyond, the resolves made by today’s politicians will have significant impact on your life.

“Even though I am not 18, these upcoming elections are important to me,” said senior Nate Brown. “The decisions made at the state level about taxes, unions, gay marriage and education will influence my future.”

Becoming informed can be achieved a number of ways. The most common resource is from family, particularly for high school voters.

“Certainly your own reading and research matters,” said history and debate teacher Nathan Johnson. “Certainly discussions with teachers and other capable adults matter, but your home life is where you have the most conversation. It is where your values have been formed to the greatest extent. I feel that influence from your parents is appropriate at this point in your life.”

Whether your influence is from CNN, the Star Tribune or the Bible, it’s important to explore multiple perspectives on issues. Once you become educated on a topic, prepare yourself to debate and persuade based on your views.

The next challenge is to find out what really matters to you. Anything from taxes and the economy to abortion and education – use your developed skills of listening and talking to form opinions on topics that will impact your future.

“Don’t worry about being labeled a Republican, Democrat or libertarian,” said Judge Bastian. “Consider the issues that this country will face in the coming years and in your opinion, decide which candidate will address those issues the best.”

Start the process of finding that passion now. For those of you who can’t vote in the coming elections, finding a way to make your voice heard is not hard. It’s as simple as a discussion.

“One of the primary features of American democracy is the constant conversation among people of any age,” said Johnson. “Without that constant political discussion our democracy would be weaker.”

You can look to the history books and find evidence supporting the cliché, “every vote counts” – or you can look to the last Senate election in Minnesota. In 2008, our senator was elected by about 1/100th of one percent. In other words, Al Franken was elected by just 312 votes out of the 2.9 million cast. Your vote does count and your voice does matter. Imagine if you applied your communication skills to something that matters, something that could affect your life today, during your continued schooling and dare I say in the years after college. Use the valuable right you are graced with as an American citizen and find a way to make your voice heard.

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About Brigid Kelly

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