Jessica Yin explains
I live in a warzone.
According to the Department of Defense and the FBI, more than 5000 people have been killed in Chicago between 2001 and 2012. To offer a comparison, approximately 2000 soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in that same time period. A lot of ink has been spilled through pointing fingers on what exactly is to blame for the bloody nature of the US’ third largest city. It is easy to focus the discussion on gun control and gun regulation, but understanding the situation requires expanding the scope of analysis. However, one needs to include the effects of urban development, the lack of employment opportunities for minorities, the barriers to education, the lack of sustainable programs, and of course, the deeply-rooted prejudice and racism that result in a cycle of self-fulfilling prophesies.
I’m not writing this article thinking I know better than those who have dedicated their lives to finding ways to change this situation. I do not have all the answers. I do, however, write to say that this is my home and the issues raised by the state of my city are my concern. If I want to see reform, I need to engage those making policy by exercising my right to vote.
Voter turnout in 2012 for the US presidential election was 53.6%. Youth voter turnout fell to 41% and non-African American minorities are voting at a consistently lower rate than white voters each election cycle. Coming into the 2016 Presidential election, I have witnessed more and more of my friends become disillusioned–and I don’t blame them. Politics in the US often feels like a constant comedy sketch on The Daily Show. After all, a 15 year-old boy ran under the name “Deez Nuts” and by mid-August, was polling at 9% in North Carolina. It’s not simply American friends I see getting frustrated; attending a Scottish university following the massive Conservative victory in the British 2015 elections has meant having plenty of discussions about underrepresentation and feeling ignored.
Despite how frustrated we all may get with the perceived bureaucracy and ignorance in our governments, giving up on the system is not the right answer. These issues are not just political: they are personal. Discussions about education reform and better mental health programs are not reserved for Capital Hill or the House of Commons; they are conversations we should be having because we are the ones that these policies affect.
I am the proud child of two immigrant parents who have worked day and night so that I could grow up in a safe neighbourhood with access to great public schools and employment opportunities. It would be irresponsible of me to avoid conversations about immigration reform, because the election of politicians like Donald Trump could take away the chances my family had to start a new life in the States. I’ve had the good fortune of attending college with very little projected student debt, but I know this is not the case for everyone. Friends turned down their dream school because of the crushing price tag attached to it. These are not even the worst-case scenarios: many never get the chance to even go to school because they are worried about where to get food that night or how to support their family.
I am a heterosexual female with the right to get married whenever I decide to, but this has only recently been a right extended towards the LGBT community. Many states still have no anti-discrimination laws in place to ensure that once married, LGBT couples can’t be fired from their jobs or refused service in a restaurant.
As a recovering anorexic and someone suffering from depression, the sad state of mental health services in the US scares me. Approximately 20% of youth aged 13-18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the third leading cause of death for ages 15-24. It does not help our fear of stigma and being socially ostracized when mental health is only brought up in the context of school shootings to deflect attention away from the serious need for gun law reform evidenced by the increased frequency of such events.
The list goes on and on –whether it is the wage gap I will have to suffer when I join the workforce, or the broken health care system I will need to navigate as my parents start to age. The issues currently being debated by the 2016 presidential candidates are something I should not ignore just because it is ridiculous to me that Trump has actual, non-ironic supporters. I cannot become so fed up with the state of our system that I give up my power to change it.
Although most 20 year olds may not feel significant enough to make a difference, Mhairi Black is 20 years old and she is an MP. Not everyone has to join a campaign or participate in a rally, but we owe it to ourselves to get informed, get involved, and most importantly, vote. This world is our responsibility and I for one want to improve it not only for myself, but also for the other unfortunate souls stuck on it with me now and without me in the future.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons