It was March and we were in Minnesota. My son played on the Stoneman Douglas hockey team and they earned a spot in the High School National Championships. Plymouth, a suburb of the Twin Cities, was the host city. That weekend the March For Our Lives rallies were taking place around the country with the big one happening in D.C. The youth of our society responding vigorously to unimaginable tragedy, banding together, organizing, and very much being heard. Our group of players, students, and parents were invited to the rally in St. Paul, a march of a couple miles, which was to finish on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol.
We were out there early on that Saturday morning and the air was frigid. But the great crowd of Minnesotans was warm. They invited the Douglas students to begin the march, and so our group from Parkland – and the students in particular – walked with purpose at the forefront of what we quickly came to see was a magnificent demonstration of solidarity. A spirited parade of young inspired citizens moving down streets lined with energetic supporters. It was the most authentic and concrete display of democracy in action I’d personally ever witnessed. When 18,000 or so people gather in one place to pull together for something, the power is undeniable.
I kept noticing the signs. Signs held up everywhere, clever ones, simple ones, some fancy, some plain, large and small, some with messages as biting as the cold. After we arrived onto the steps of the Capitol and were facing back towards the crowd, with the speeches getting underway, I noticed a woman among the spectators standing below who was holding a sign we have all seen many times. A sign bearing one of the common slogans connected with political events, a phrase so mundane it’s easy to not notice it at all. But on that wintry spring morning, standing amid those many thousands, hearing the speakers talk of the changes sure to come, and the youthful crowd chanting and enthused, it occurred to me that this woman’s familiar sign was most important one of all. It wasn’t witty or clever. All it said was “Register to Vote.”
Getting the word out with marches, protests, signs, and speeches is important. But for all the energy spent on rallies and gatherings, debates on TV, articles in the news, the real impact depends on votes being cast on Election Day.
In recent history, youth voter turnout has been well below the average, especially during midterm elections. Data reported by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement shows that while voter turnout in recent presidential elections for citizens aged 18 to 29 has been in the 50 percent range, in the past several midterms, the turnout for the same group has fallen into the low to mid 20 percent range. The same data shows that turnout for citizens 30 years and older is typically 20 percentage points higher than those rates. And isolating the guys’ numbers, CIRCLE figures demonstrating recent historical turnout by gender through 2010 show that since about the 1990s, young men consistently show up to the voting booth in lower percentages than young women.
According to the Florida Department of State website, the last day to register to vote in Florida for the November 6, 2018 general election is October 9, 2018. It will be interesting to see if the turnout of young voters in this election falls in line with historical patterns. Maybe this time something changes. Maybe this is the election that sets a new standard. Maybe this is a moment in time when the younger generation of the day demonstrates the full scope of its force. Not only the walking and the talking, but also the casting of the ballot. Maybe this is the day when the young lead us – like they led the nation on that Saturday in March – and we advance toward the fundamental goal of never again.