Talking to teens
As the world turns its eyes on this country’s upcoming presidential election, America’s youth and first-time voters are weighing in on a variety of issues. We interviewed high school seniors and college freshmen, many of whom will be voting for the first time on Nov. 4. The answers were laced with insight and forethought.
Christina, an African-American 17-year-old senior at Elmhurst’s Timothy Christian High School, isn’t short on opinions even though she is not able to vote this November. This election is important, said Christina, “Because this is the first time there is an African-American man who might actually get there. Obama knows what people want and he’s going to be fair about it. He has a lot of connections that we need to have peace. Without peace, it’s a chaotic society. You’re always fighting. Sons will be dying, daughters too.” She added.
Christina has a clear vision as to why this election is not only important, but historic. “This election is going down in history,” she said. “Anyone who is eligible, youth-wise, should vote. This is the biggest election they will ever be involved in.”
Marissa, a Mexican-American freshman at Harold Washington College (HWC) and resident of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood doesn’t agree; in fact, although she is registered to vote, she has not made up her mind if she will vote and for whom she will vote.
“I only registered because they were registering students to vote during class registration. I’m 50-50 between the candidates. I don’t know anything about them. I will probably ask my mother who to vote for,” Marissa said.
Marissa’s classmate, Cathy, an Asian-American freshman and first-time voter, has a clear plan for her vote. “I’m going to vote for the one who has the best plan for education. I’m excited because I know voting is one of the best rights you can have as an adult.”
Chris, a 19-year-old African-American freshman at Triton College in River Grove, shares that sentiment. “I feel fortunate that the first time I’m voting is one of the most historic times to vote,” he said. “Also, I’m glad I can take part in something that has been doubted in history-an African-American can actually be considered a real candidate for president.”
I asked if they decided to register to vote on their own or if someone encouraged them to do so. “My mother encouraged me,” said Chris. “I also wanted to vote. That’s one of the biggest things that happens to you when you turn 18. You get the right to vote on a national level.”
Chris said at first many of his friends were planning to sit out this election and he told them, “You’re basically sitting out on your life. You’re not making a difference. Choosing not to vote is a decision that could change your life.” Chris said after he finished preaching and shaming them, a group of his friends went to the library to register. “I just stressed that if they didn’t get registered and vote, then they are just lazy and uninformed. I say, get out and vote for your life, for your future.”
Ashley, an 18-year-old white Harold Washington College freshman, said her sister threatened her and told her to go register to vote. The young people said they were also influenced to register to vote by frequent ads running on their favorite shows, like MTV and BET.
Although the general consensus of these young people and their peers is that this is an important election, the reason why varies as much as the type of music they listen to. Chris believes the real importance is, “Never before has there been a close chance for an African-American to become president. We’ve never had that, and coming off our last president, anything is better than that. You can’t really go any further down than Bush!”
Overwhelmingly, as with most of the country according to the polls, the young people were in support of Obama. I asked them why Obama? What is special about his message? Christina said he has a connection with youth, but not just people of his age group.
“He tries to relate to the youth instead of just pushing them to the side,” she said. “I like Obama because he is laid back. He is full of knowledge and well educated, more so than the average person, yet he’s like an everyday citizen. He doesn’t act all superior and higher than others. He’s not scared of the people.”
Chris said as an African-American man, Obama supports strong families and that’s pretty impressive. “He seems like he’s more for families and that is important in running the country. Basing decisions on what’s best for a family is what this country needs,” he said.
Christina and others believe Obama’s candidacy sends a positive message to young black men and help them see themselves in a different light. “They want to be gangsters because that’s cool and that’s what everyone expects of them,” she observed, “but Barack will show them that they can be smart, they can work in high fields and still be appreciated in their neighborhood.”
These young, first-time voters are enthusiastic seemed charged up. When asked why, Chris answered, “It’s exciting to be looking forward to electing a president; to be looking forward to someone new running the country.”
They had several ideas and suggestions to give to both Obama and McCain. When asked what they would say if given the chance to talk to the candidates two weeks before the election, Chris said he would tell Obama to keep up with what he is doing and stay on the path, working for families and when he gets into office, to keep doing what he says he is going to do.
Chris said he would tell McCain that he “seems like he is more about money and business, and that’s not the only thing you need to run the country.”
Others said they would give the same advice to both candidates: “Keep your promises. Don’t talk the talk, walk the walk,” Ashley said. “Make sure what’s on your agenda is good for young America,” added Marissa.
Chris summed it all up, “I’m going to record the victory speech to show to the future generation, to document in their minds, to use it as a foundation for their future advancement and life goals.”
These young adults were opinionated, passionate and looking forward to this presidential election with a variety of sentiments. Christina said, if she got a chance to speak with Obama before the election, she would say, “Don’t doubt yourself, don’t get big-headed, and always rely on young people. You go, Mr. President! Young people are watching and applauding you,” she added flashing the peace sign.