As part of the “Your Voice, Your Vote” college tour, Congressman Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) and special guest Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick spoke in the Vandy Cabaret Room at Boston College on Oct. 27 to stress the importance of student activism.
It’s an important issue to stress, as voter turnout among Millennials is expected to be a paltry 23% for the upcoming election. For the 2012 election, 45% of citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 voted, compared to 72% of citizens over the age of 65. There’s a reason politicians spend so much time getting the senior vote and focusing on senior issues; they vote.
Faced with increased cynicism about the political process from college students and young voters, Kennedy and Patrick offered a simple remedy.
“You have to get involved. You have to get out and vote,” Patrick said. “As you do that, political people respond.”
The event started with a rousing ovation for Kennedy, representing Massachusetts’ 4th district, and Patrick, serving his last term as governor before retirement. After an introduction from the College Democrats of Boston College and the College Democrats of Massachusetts, Kennedy stressed why this election, rapidly approaching on Nov. 4, is particularly important.
With Republicans having the opportunity to gain control of the Senate in addition to the already Republican majority House, this election could create even more gridlock (if that’s possible) within the legislative branch.
“The point [of Republican philosophy] is to obstruct, to get in the way, and to not actually pass anything,” said Kennedy. “Their metric of success is watching people lose faith in government.”
Kennedy stressed the obvious good that can come from a well-functioning government. According to Kennedy, under Governor Patrick, Massachusetts has become #1 in education, leaders in clean energy and climate change and possessing the best science and technology programs in the country.
After his introduction from Congressman Kennedy, Governor Patrick explained why cynicism among college students and Millennial voters is not an excuse to sit out elections.
“If you sit it out,” said Patrick, “you leave [the results] to the people with the money and the influence to ensure the result.”
The fewer people that vote, the greater influence money can have. It’s a vicious cycle; citizens expressing their frustration with the power of money in politics by refusing to vote only increases the power of that money. That money and power creates a political system that is fixated on short-term results over long-term issues. If millennials needed a reason to care, it’s because these upcoming elections could have expensive and troublesome consequences for our future.
“We aren’t governing for the next generation,” Patrick said.
Citing the underfunding of infrastructure in Boston and across the country as well as a steadfast refusal to do nothing about the impending repercussions of climate change, Patrick and Kennedy stressed that our generation would be the ones footing the bill for the inherent shortsightedness of the current political system.
“If you care about generational responsibility,” said Patrick, ending his speech, “I want to urge all of you to come out and help and be a part of a forward-looking, generationally-responsible government.”
After another rousing ovation from the Cabaret Room, Kennedy and Patrick were able to take questions from the audience. In between questions about the recent Citizens United ruling and domestic violence, Kennedy answered a question about a topic near and dear to our hearts: student loans. When asked what the government was doing to make student loans and the cost of higher education manageable, Kennedy offered a blunt response: “The short answer is, not enough.”
A higher voter turnout among Millennials would help bring student issues, such as student loans, to the forefront of the political discussion and help change the fact that some student loan rates are twice as high as mortgage rates. This, if anything, should provide students the necessary motivation to make their voices heard.
Afterwards, Kennedy was asked if there was a possibility of future incentives to help drive more young voters to the polls.
“It’s hard to pass legislation to try to incentivize folks to get out to the polls,” Kennedy said. “But what we’re trying to do is make sure people understand the stakes of the election and get people out. You guys being here is a big start.”