Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


The Invisible Generation

By kgpatia
Twenty-four days remain before the November 4 elections. It has been an exhausting 22 months since the first candidates declared they were seeking their respective party's nomination for president. In this span of time, hundreds of stump speeches have been given, primaries were won and lost, political controversies have sparked and died out, dozens of debates have taken place, and the media has been flooded with punditry, analysis, and information about the 2008 presidential election. For those of us caught up in this political frenzy, regardless of which candidate one is supporting, it is difficult to imagine that there are people out there who, for one reason or another, are planning to sit this election out by not voting.

I was disheartened to read an article this morning in my school's paper, The Daily Northwestern, about university students and staff who were voluntarily disenfranchising themselves by vowing not to vote in the November 4 election. The reasons were varied but fell into familiar patterns, with students complaining about complicated procedures, purporting that one vote "never" matters, and expressing anger over the political process.

However, out of all the emotions this article inspired -- anger, despair, embarrassment (this is my university these students are representing, after all) -- the one I felt most acutely was frustration. Young people have consistently been the worst no-shows of any age group on election day. In 2004, 53% of 18-24 year-olds did not vote. In comparison, 44% of 25-34 year-olds, 36% of 35-44 year-olds, 31% of 45-54 year-olds, 27% of 55-64 year-olds, and 27% of 65-74 year-olds did not vote in 2004.

What is so frustrating about all this is that it is the consistent failure of young people to come through in significant numbers at the polls that leads to many of the symptoms of political diseffectedness that non-voters profess; thus, what many non-voters view as a reaction to political malaise is actually the cause of it. For better or for worse, a candidate must garner enough votes to win an election. In this context, the reality is that politicians will oftentimes tailor parts of their platforms to attract voters from certain demographics. However, this typically only applies to demographics that regularly turn out to vote. Since young people have shown in elections past that they can't be relied on to vote, they regularly get left out of the political process and virtually ignored by politicians.

It is understandable that students might feel upset about this negligence, but it is counter intuitive for this to translate into a failure to vote. It seems so obvious, but the reality is that if you want anyone in government to care about what you have to say, you have to make your voice heard. It is in this context that young people can become an catalyst for change in the political process and that a multitude of young people, contributing just their "one vote," can become a force to be reckoned with.

My generation is in need of a major attitude adjustment when it comes to voting. If civic duty doesn't appeal to them, perhaps self-interest will. I only hope that young people see the bigger picture in this election and cast off the cloak of political invisibility that has shrouded us as a generation, once and for all.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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