Why political apathy scares me

I often hear some poor fool complaining about some foolish politician and his or her policies. More often than not, the people who complain the most are the people who don’t even bother to vote.

I’m a very avid voter, which isn’t something I could have said two years ago. I always thought I’d be the person who remained blissfully unaware of what’s going on in the politiverse, just smiling and going along with it. Then I came to a realization: the people who don’t vote are the reason democracy has its flaws. I fear that one day we will lose our right to vote because we didn’t speak out. It’s so important to vote and have an opinion.

One afternoon this summer, I was sitting at my grandmother’s dinner table listening to her ramble on about how much she hates President Obama and how Bill O’Reilly is a mastermind. This got my blood boiling; as a journalism student, I despise O’Reilly as a

Political sheep in dreams as someone sleeps. Graphic by Katie Sickman.
Political sheep in dreams as someone sleeps. Graphic by Katie Sickman.

“journalist.” Of course, my grandmother and I started debating. My mother almost immediately shut this conversation down, but this got me thinking: in a country where people would rather sit down and shut up than fight for what they believe in, aren’t we defeating the purpose of a democracy?

One of my favorite examples of democracy in action happened over the summer. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered an abortion bill to death with the help of protesters who distracted the politicians so the bill couldn’t be passed on time. (This bill was, unfortunately, passed later on.) To me, this is how all political decisions should be made. If we have an issue with a bill or a politician as a whole, why don’t we stand up and fight? Going out to vote is the easy way to get a politician in or out of office, but it’s like pulling teeth to get people to do even that.

I was talking to a friend a few months ago about how, in my personal opinion, people who don’t vote don’t have a legitimate right to complain. If they really cared about politics, why don’t they go out and vote? His argument was, “It’s my First Amendment, God-given right to complain. It’s called freedom of speech.”

First of all, I had to laugh at the idea that any amendment is God-given. God didn’t personally come down from heaven and compose the Bill of Rights himself. Second of all, you do have freedom of speech and you can legally complain about politicians — but it’s also your right and your duty as a citizen to vote. Why are you so eager to take advantage of one right, but not the other?

I fear that i’m apart of a generation that completely lacks any interest in or knowledge of politics. In my online reporting class, my partner and I had to go out and ask students if they were voting in the upcoming Va. governor’s race. Although we only had the chance to speak to three students, all three immediately answered “no.” One of my classmates spoke to a student who also said she wasn’t voting, although she’s a political science major. This makes me worry that one day our generation will be greatly taken advantage of if we don’t step up and speak out against injustices in our political system. What kind of bills will politicians be allowed to pass if we don’t speak up against them?

The Democratic Party uses the donkey as a symbol because of its strong will. The Republican Party’s elephant symbolizes strength and dignity. The Libertarian Party uses the porcupine as a symbol because it’s a defensive animal prepared to defend itself against aggression. Sheep are the only animals with no natural defenses and depend on others for protection. Don’t be a political sheep. Be anything but a sheep.