By Paul Moya
On June 24th, 2016, young Britons woke up to a hangover that has lasted for four months and counting. The UK had voted to leave the European Union, by a slim margin of 51.9% to 48.1%.
A plunging currency, capital flight, job loss, a surge of xenophobic behavior and violence, British millennials watched their country crumble overnight. As the aftermath began to unfold, Leave campaign promises were broken, and disturbing analytics showed British voters had Google searched “What is the EU?” and “What does leaving the EU mean?” once the deed had been already done.
Young people, who overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, felt that they had been robbed, that elderly pensioners in nursing homes and their middle-aged parents had snatched their futures away from them. In the days following the vote, millennials gathered in city squares to protest; they created online petitions and Kickstarters, they showed disgust for the ignorance and backward thinking that led to their country betraying them so deeply. It was a decision made by the old on behalf of the young, they lamented. That they would have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives was unjust.
But what about the Brexit millennial voter turnout? Not great. Seventy-three percent of 18-24 year olds and 62% of 25-34 year olds voted to stay in the EU. Young people like the EU. This much is obvious. However, despite their Europhilia, only a dismal 36% of 18-24 year olds and 58% of 25-34 year olds showed up on the day to protect their EU membership. In contrast, approximately 81% of voters 55 and older made it to the polls, and they favored Leave by roughly 56%-60%. While exit-polling data can be murky, the picture it paints is clear. Youth voters overwhelming support a Britain in Europe, and a woeful number of them exercised their rights on June 24th. Even if, as recent reports suggest, the youth vote was higher than originally projected, with researchers placing a more accurate voter turnout for 18-24 year olds at 64%, they revised for over-65 voter turnout as closer to 90%. Sixty four percent is still not enough. That just won’t cut it.
British millennials are not having their fate imposed upon them by the middle aged and elderly. Young people who grew up enjoying the free movement and multicultural richness afforded by membership in the European Union will likely see this stripped from them, along with their job prospects and economic growth. However, this was not forced on millennials. Millennials chose this for themselves—they cast their vote by staying silent on referendum day.
Millennials face the danger of recent history repeating itself on November 8th. Like Brexit, the stakes for millennial voters have never been higher. As Donald Trump wages his repugnant presidential campaign, a campaign built on unprecedented xenophobia, misogyny, and ignorant fear mongering, our nation sits on the edge of a perilous precipice come Election Day. Candidates pour resources and time into Rock the Vote initiatives because your vote matters. This year, the Democratic primary was a long and emotional race between Hillary Clinton and youth favorite, Bernie Sanders. The Democrats have had major hurdles to cross to reunify the Party and rally for the mud-slinging reality television drama of the general election.
People are tired of and disgusted by this election. It feels dirty. I get it. Millennials are no exception to this electoral malaise. In fact, millennial voters poll as supporting Hillary three to one over Trump, but interest in showing up to the polls is plummeting in the final days leading to the election. Millennials are the American voting demographic least likely to turn out this year. And like our friends across the pond, we are guilty of foregoing the voting booths and then bemoaning the outcomes that affect us more than anyone else.
The story in Austin, Texas, earlier this year, was no different. Citizens were allowed to cast their vote on whether Uber and other ride-sharing services would face stricter restrictions on their operations. A vote in favor of the restrictions would likely cause Uber and their competitor, Lyft, to leave the city, as they had done in other cities where similar measures were introduced. Austin is a young, growing city that has become something of a millennial mecca, teeming with young professionals. Many, like most of us urban dwellers, are reliant on Uber to take them around the city—to bars, to meetings, to brunch.
On voting day, 17.3% of registered voters showed up to vote on the issue. The restrictions were passed and implemented, and Uber and Lyft abandoned Austin. Millennial voters were left frustrated, rideless, and wondering where the Ubers, which at this point they viewed as a utility, rather than a luxury, had gone.
What happened was that 17.3% of the population voted and decided on policies that would disproportionately impact millennials in the city. Although the stakes were not as high as the politically apocalyptic Brexit vote, in Austin, once again, millennial voters simply did not turn out to vote. Millennials are disenfranchised, we know this. But if you fail to show up this Election Day, you stand to lose a whole lot more than a ride home from the bar on a Saturday night.
What I love so much about the millennial generation is that when we want something, we want it yesterday. We are not ok with sitting back and letting the world dictate our future. Instead, we work to create that future. Now is no different. Now is the time to step up and make that future a reality, because on November 9th it’s not going to be ok to sit back and complain.
On Election Day, you’re going to make a statement regardless of whether you cast your vote or not. You’re taking a position, and your inaction will speak as loud as action. Do not let this election be decided disproportionately by those who do not have to live its consequences for decades to come. Instead, be on the side that showed up, the side that took action. Be on the side that will one day look back and realize that you were part of something— that you were a piece of that history.
The future is in your hands. How will you show up?