by Karen Michel
Doing my preliminary research and first batch of interviews about youth and civic engagement, I’m struck by the agreement on the issues across ideologies.
Studies by PEW, the Young Invincibles, DEMOS and others show a decline in the probability of voting between the last presidential election and the next. These studies show that political engagement of any kind is linked to having at least some college education. For those who’ve gone to college, student debt and the difficulty of finding employment, rate high on the list of issues.
Debt and jobs: pretty key to future, to survival, to doing more than scratch through existence.
The Students for Liberty Regional Conference at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California was populated with young men in suits and ties and dress shirts (a couple of them with French cuffs) and impeccable grooming and women in dresses and pantyhose and hairstyles of another era. The first speaker, a man – as were nearly all of the speakers – espoused legalizing drugs. A self-avowed “square,” his position didn’t come from having been a stoner in college, but from his Libertarian, liberty equals everyone can do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, viewpoint. His speech was well received, though it wasn’t until I went to downtown Los Angeles, to the Occupy LA encampment behind City Hall, that I smelled the “liberating” scent.
A speaker at the Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Malibu, CA. Photo by Karen Michel.
Stephanie, a blonde-haired, skirt-wearing (but bare-legged) young woman walking her yellow dog was the first person I met at Occupy LA. When I asked her what the issues were, her first response was the legalization of marijuana. Here, liberty meant the same thing, though I’d overheard participants at Students for Liberty disparage those occupiers.
Same-sex marriage was another issue where both groups agreed. The two self-identified Socialist students I spoke with at USC were in accord on those issues, too.
And here’s the scary part: very few of the young folks I interviewed (18-29) were sure they’d be voting in the next election. There was a disconnect between voting and political impact. What I’m seeing, tentatively: an end to two-party (or even three-party) politics. We may be in a post-party-partisan world – where issues unite, while parties continue to divide.
Stay tuned. Next trip to Los Angeles: high schoolers and community college students.