The Importance of Being Politically Aware

Growing up as a teenager, I felt that following politics was a waste. That it was something you did when you got older, like graduate to wine, if ever; because it didn't really affect me. What did I care, I thought, they're all full of crap and corrupt and don't give a damn about me.

I (somehow) graduated high school not knowing much of anything about the current political system outside of who our president was. I knew maybe a handful of the more publicized politicians, but that was about it. I didn't know who my senators were, who my state representatives were or my local Congressman. Or some of the details on how a bill gets passed. Neither did anyone I knew even remotely close to my age. Nor were we ever required to know any of this before graduating. I have found that this may vary somewhat, dependent on geography, but this should probably change if we as a country want some real change.

My high school experience has been part of a national trend for more than thirty years now. Beginning in the 1980's, budget cuts and gradual moves to emphasize teaching to more and more standardized testings has meant a phasing out of most civics curriculums. With civics comes the teaching of our government and its political members, citizen's rights and the power of organizing. Civics helps embed empathy of different cultures and the ability to actually consider differing perspectives, not shout at them when they clash with yours.

The Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Organize, U.S. Constitutional and long-standing legislation, respectively, are integral parts of understanding civics. Movements like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or something as taken for granted as a weekend, overtime pay or minimum wage all came about by protest, demonstration and assembly. Here in New York, recent initiatives like the raising of the minimum wage to $15/hr by next year or the city and state college covered tuition programs would not have happened without organization and protest.

Your district representatives and senators are more important than you might think. Politicians a lot of times will gauge the stance of their constituents for how they will proceed towards a certain viewpoint. Furthermore, most federal laws are passed first on a state level and gauged on their receptiveness and success before being enacted nationally. This was true for same-sex marriages. Similarly, for the Affordable Healthcare Act that was brought on federally, in part, because of the statewide success of a very similar and successful healthcare reform version passed in Massachusetts.

Our U.S. Congress approval rating hasn't been above 30% in over 7 and a half years. More impressively pathetic, they've only earned an approval rating above 24% once in the last 90 months. And that was in February this year when they were given the benefit of the doubt, only to remind everyone of their incompetence and again having their approval rating plummet since, according to Gallup.com. Despite all of this, our House of Representatives and Senators are re-elected at absurdly high rates. Our 112th U.S. Congress, a dumpster fire of epic proportions collection of congressional members that passed the least amount of legislation in 70 years, had approval ratings just barely over single digits for a lot of their term. They were the perfect storm of absolute contempt for those of opposing views, disregard for their constituents and incompetence. Yet they were re-elected in 2014 at a clip of 95%. Ninety-five. I don't even say 'that's what she said' to implied dick jokes at that high a rate. That's because people aren't showing up to the polls. That's like having your kid throw the ultimate fit in Toys R Us, kick and scream up and down every aisle, pull everything off the shelves every step of the way and then you buy them the damn toy anyway. We're doing America wrong, guys. We're not holding our elected officials responsible.

And it shows in the recklessness of the bills that they've been trying to pass, without the tiniest sense of accountability for their cruelty. Supporting laws in the last couple of weeks that would cut more than 23 million Americans off their healthcare coverage and putting millions more of Americans' savings and financial stability at risk by letting banks go back to their same reckless business practices that caused the 2008 financial crisis in the first place are just for starters. Things that the majority of American's do not want, but will for all intent and purposes run the risk of going through without the worry of constituent blow back.

The first real test for everyone to get involved will be during the political midterms in November 2018. They occur every four years between the general elections. Republicans currently have a majority in both the Senate and the House of Republicans. If you're unhappy with the current political environment and want a change, the outlook looks to be an uphill battle, but is doable. Of the 33 Senate seats that are up every 6 years, 25 of them are Democrat. They'll need to win 28 of those seats to get the majority back. All 435 House of Representatives seats are up for election, as they are every 2 years. Despite the dirty political games of gerrymandering, getting enough people out to the polls that are fed up with the current political environment is what will be needed to get that change.

Being aware and involved in the political atmosphere does not guarantee your issues will be addressed, but not being all but guarantees that they won't be. That's because politicians gauge their potential voter base on the topics that matter to them. They pander to their voters. And unless you're involved and having your voice be heard, your issues unfortunately won't get onto their radar. Do you want to know why the poor are always a whipping posts for politicians? Because the poor are easy targets. The poor don't vote. In the last midterm elections in 2014, Politifact found that 69% of those making under $30,000 and about 75% of those making under $10,000 didn't vote. So politicians can continue to attack and demonize that demographic being fully aware that they'll receive zero blowback from it. That can not continue. They work for us. They are our elected officials. And if they aren't representing us voters and our best interests, then they need to go. But we only ensure that our elected officials are held accountable if we pay attention and show up to them voter polls.

If you are of voting age and not registered to vote, you can do so online at: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote or at any Department of Motor Vehicles, SNAP/Job Center or Armed Services Recruitment Center. Also, Facebook has new features that allows you to enter your zip code and be linked with all your accompanying politicians. Follow, find out their stances and educate yourself. If you're not of voting age, Teen Vogue has done a very good job of educating the youth on our political and social environment with it's provocative and intellectually demanding pieces. Online games like https://www.icivics.org/games/ has helped to make learning about civics fun, as well.