For decades, the quintessential American rite-of-passage has been earning a driver’s license. Teens anxious to break free from the humiliating chains of parent-reliant transportation fervently count down the days until their 16th birthday, breathless for a chance to earn the passport to the adult world. In those days, driving was freedom.
Today’s technological society is brimming with freedoms that our parents couldn’t have ever imagined. The navigation of smartphones, social media, and the internet are programmed into children from a young age. Rather than seek physical discovery, inquiring minds turn to cyber resources to satisfy their curiosity. Driving no longer represents freedom, our electronics do: texting or Snapchat allows friendships to flourish despite physical distance, Facetime reconnects extensive families, and Instagram or YouTube provide unprecedented virtual exploration of culture and the human experience. An assessment of speed limits and parallel parking is no longer the dividing line between youth and maturity. And what has replaced it? I propose that the true measure of a teen’s capability and wisdom is their regard for justice, their fellow men, and the future of the Earth. Yes, the new All-American rite-of-passage is the ability to vote.
Just like Driver’s Ed courses precede the metamorphic adventure of piloting a vehicle, steps must be taken before an individual can exercise their full rights as a citizen of the United States. A Texas Voting Registration form is short and straightforward. It took me all of 10 minutes to fill out the application. Simply input your name, age, address, and either your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Print out the form and mail it to the Registrar of Voters, and you will be able to vote, provided that you are 18 by the next election. For more information, go to www.votetexas.gov/register-to-vote/.
In the 2016 Election, approximately 50% of eligible young people voted, or about 24 million youth ages 18 to 29. However, only 31% voted in the 2018 Midterms.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. The door of history swings on small hinges. Whispers of change and grassroots activism escalate from communities to cities to capitals. Your beliefs, your choices, your experiences matter. Your vote matters. Thomas Jefferson once said, “We do not have a government by the majority. We have a government by the majority who participate.” If you choose not to exercise your civil rights and have a say in our nation’s leadership, I request that you abstain from arguing about parties and policy. Talking politics is pointless unless you take your opinions to the voting booth.
To survive and thrive in society, our forebears required foundational knowledge of their material surroundings. Our generation requires a very different set of skills: our internet-connected world is shrinking to fit into a screen, and we have the responsibility of acting on the information we possess. We can no longer afford to be willfully ignorant or purposefully indecisive; Gen Z will soon be the stewards of the planet. I implore all citizens to take their duty as defenders of democracy seriously. The future of America is up to you and me.