Saumya Narechania: Reclaiming the ballot for change

I found it slightly ironic (forgive my Alanis Morisette-esque misuse of the word) that Britney Spears had yet another breakdown the very same night of the Iowa caucuses. You see, Britney has become, unfortunately for our reputation, a symbol of our generation. Grouped together with the characters and media caricatures of various Lindsay Lohans and Michael Vicks, we have been labeled a lost generation.

We’re wanderers, we are 20-somethings with no purpose, with a desire to explore, and too often end up at a destination of sex, drugs and violence. Unfortunately for the prognosticating baby boomers and American elders of our time, though, that is not our final destination. In fact, we know we have goals and duties to each other; we are anything but the generation of misdirected souls.

We are not the youth of the 1960s and 1970s, celebrating our involvement in a drug culture. So much as that culture exists, we shy away from any stated involvement in it – we do not post photos on Facebook for fear our future employer may see. We are not the children of the 1980s, as we do not feel the need to move into adulthood too early, and we are not the grunge rockers of the 1990s explicitly trying to rebel against anything that no one can really define.

We are just too busy for all of that. Because of our volunteering gigs, our internships and our extracurricular activities we’ve reached a point where, and most professors can tell, we don’t do our readings, we research our papers the night they are due and we singlehandedly pay the salaries of half of the world’s Starbucks employees. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, ours is the generation of nothingness – or so we’ve been defined.

This generation tackles a lot of issues and sees itself as the means to bigger, and hopefully better, ends. Our candy-striping hours, though, aren’t simply a product of a greater calling. We know we are being watched by overzealous parents, admissions committees and potential human resource personnel. While there are numerous problems with the world as it stands today, we do not necessarily push ourselves against the current establishment by refusing to participate in the process in protest.

Instead, we grow up by working with non-governmental organizations and going on expeditions abroad to teach English. The obscene number of AIDS victims in sub-Saharan Africa and ongoing genocide in Darfur are not problems that are going away soon. Oddly, our generation is investing our time trying to address these problems now, while we’re young, and have not fully embraced establishment cynicism, but while we groom ourselves to join that establishment. After all, having to make money, support a family and voting conservatively doesn’t start until after 30.

We have the insight or if you prefer, na’veté, of a 22-year-old, but no desire to use old tools and actions to break down the system we live in. We refuse to try to break it down like youth before us, with a desire to fight against it with might and sheer force. We accidentally gave ourselves an extra ten years to work against this establishment, not by throwing stones at it and waiting for it to fall, but by placing our own bricks in and around the walls.

A few weeks ago, the number of people younger than 30 participating in the Iowa caucuses increased by more than threefold from the caucuses in 2004. In New Hampshire, five days later, the youth again turned up in record-breaking numbers.

For years, political pundits have denied – more vehemently than Roger Clemens denies the findings of the Mitchell Report – that the youth vote will matter, that we will even show up. We have started to prove them wrong, though, and my expectation is that this trend will continue. It is not just the fact that candidates are contacting us every other day, it’s that we’ve found our own way to “rebel.” We are defining ourselves not with excessive drug use, not with Pearl Jam, tattoos and piercing, but with what we were already given – a vote and a voice.

Hats off to all of the ‘get out the vote’ campaigns by both the candidates themselves and other organizations. But,most of all, hats off to the realization by my peers in Iowa and New Hampshire that we have a way to try to fix the mess of a world that we see. We know we are going to have deal with global warming, with Iraqi refugees, with overpriced life-saving drugs not getting shipped overseas. We also know that Britney Spears is on TV, but we are not settling.

The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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