Growing up right outside Washington DC I have always been very involved in politics. From a young age my family instilled in me the importance of being politically aware and being educated about what’s going on around me. My parents never told me who was “right” or who was “wrong,” rather they just told me a watered down version of the candidates’ platforms that a child could understand. They would say things like "He doesn't think two men should be able to get married" or "He thinks you should be able to decide whether or not you want to live if you are really sick and in lots of pain." I was having pro-life/pro-choice debates with my parents by the sixth grade and in 2004 I drew my dad a little cartoon about the election between “Dog Kerry” and “Dog Bush" where both candidates wanted to be the president of the United States of Puppies. Obviously I didn’t know a ton back then, however I think it’s safe to say that I’m pretty well educated when it comes to politics now.
This past presidential election was the first I was old enough to vote in. I kept my “I’m Registered to Vote” sticker on my laptop for months. All of my friends from the DC area were registered, too, and we could have political discussions for hours. We could talk about hot-button issues like reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and “The Wall,” but we could also talk about less mainstream issues. We could go into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, economic issues, healthcare, NATO, and the travel embargo on Cuba. Upon my move to Ohio, I was shocked to find how little my Midwestern friends cared or knew about any of it. I met a lot of people who didn’t vote, weren’t registered to vote, or couldn’t name a single seat on the ballot besides the presidential slate.
I don’t think this is necessarily a Midwestern thing or that no one outside of DC understands politics, rather that me, a DC native, is much more involved in politics than the average American. I was simply unaware that not everyone cared about politics as much as me, and honestly I was pretty disappointed. I think it is absolutely crucial for every American to have at least a baseline knowledge of our political climate and the issues politicians are talking about, and this is why:
1. Political decisions affect literally all of us.
The government has control over so many aspects of our lives. Politicians can alter our access to reproductive/contraceptive resources, our taxes, our healthcare, our benefits, our access to guns, our school systems, and our rights and freedoms. There is no amount of money, no race or culture, and no age that keeps you completely safe from the hands of the law. You may find your city without clean water, like those in Flint, and find that the government is not assisting you. It could happen to anyone.
2. There is something that you are passionate about that politicians are talking about right now.
You may not care about the economy or immigration, but I guarantee you that there is something you care about that is being talked about by politicians as we speak. Whether it’s the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana, LGBTQ+ rights, police brutality, veteran benefits, affordable health care, defunding Planned Parenthood, or gun control, there is something that you feel strongly about that politicians are talking about. By not paying attention you may very well lose a freedom that is important to you. If you’re a gun owner and that means something to you, shouldn’t you make sure you’re aware of politicians who want to ban the purchase of guns? Or maybe you’re really passionate about the death penalty and its morality. Shouldn’t you know which party and which politicians want it abolished and which don’t?
3. Political decisions affect your finances.
Obviously government officials make big decisions about our taxes, but they also make decisions about the price of medicine, funding for Medicaid, paid leave from work, Social Security and retirement pension, labor unions, paid leave, and Bitcoin becoming a currency or not. We also have a national debt of around $18,000,000,000,000, which trust me, affects us all way more than you might think. Keep in mind as well that all of these political decisions, big and small, are things that you as tax payer are paying for. You are giving your hard earned money to the government, so don’t you think you should know where it goes and have some say in it?
4. You can make a real difference.
Contrary to popular belief, your vote matters. When millions of Americans don't vote because they think it doesn't matter, the outcome of an election is affected dramatically. Living in a swing state, like Ohio, your vote matters even more. You can vote for things way beyond the presidency, too. You can vote on local issues that directly affect your community. You can vote on your senators who you can directly work with and communicate with if you choose. These are people who make big decisions for you that affect you, and you 100% have say in who they are. The New York Times predicted Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 Presidential Election at an 87% to 13% on November 7th, 2016, which was the day before the election. Obviously that didn't happen. Do you remember Season 5 of American Idol? Everyone and their mother thought Chris Daughtry was going to win. He had the highest amount of votes almost every week and he was a well-known fan favorite. He finished in fourth, and his elimination was a major shock. His fans didn't pick up the phones and vote. I'm sure every one of them thought their vote wouldn't matter, and because of that Taylor Hicks stole the title. Voting matters.
5. Your safety is being threatened.
Ultimately the number one reason we should all pay attention to political issues is our physical safety. Our National Security has been threatened time and time again by several groups and is still threatened today. Whether its refugees, Russian missiles and cybersecurity hacks, or North Korean threats, it’s absolutely vital to be aware of the threats on our safety. These, along with dangerous environmental issues, are kind of scary and important to be aware of.
We live in a time where all the information in the world is at our fingers. It’s extremely easy for anyone with internet access, a cell phone, TV, or access to a newspaper to stay informed about politics. Twitter has political stories on the Explore page everyday. You can read political news articles via Snapchat. You can access newspapers and news articles online for free. For the vast majority of Americans, news is free and easy to follow. There is no excuse for the vast majority of us to be uninformed about politics. What's going on with the French election is important. What's going on in Syria is important. What's going on in Flint, Michigan, is important. What's going on with the Dakota Access Pipeline is important. These are all issues that every American needs to be aware of. I'm not saying you need to walk around with a picket sign or get into political Facebook wars with your family, but reading a 300-word article every day and checking a box on a ballot can really go a long way.