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December 29, 2003

Youth as Swing Voters

I read an interesting New York Times editorial today: "In Search of the Swing Voter" by Chuck Todd (Dec 29). Todd suggests that because 9/11 has politicized this generation of young people, they will be a crucial demographic in the 2004 election.

I'm thinking this will be of particular interest to Adam Fletcher of freechild.org. We've discussed previously his view that the point of YL is not YL, but rather Radical Democracy. I like this idea. While I'm not sure that I'm 100% on board yet, I think it's a good message, and it really does encapsulate most of what YL is supposed to be about.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

"The most accurate definition of a swing voter is a person who swings between voting and not voting. No matter how defined, however, swing voters remain the most coveted, and most influential, demographic in American politics. And this year's swing voter could very well be . . . Young People."


"The demographic group that may fit this swing voter profile better than any Nascar fan or soccer parent is people under the age of 25. Many of these people didn't vote in 2000 because they weren't old enough or, worse, were disenchanted with the national political discourse.

Four years later, the average 24-year-old has a far more serious set of concerns. Her seminal political memory is no longer Monica Lewinsky, it is 9/11. Like Pearl Harbor for an earlier generation, 9/11 is the kind of memory that re-emphasizes the need for civic duty — and it's likely that young folks are going to hear this call."

Posted by Sven at December 29, 2003 09:58 PM


Hey Sven, thanks for thinking of me! I've been seeing more of these types of articles coming down the pipes, and while they are good in terms of recognizing the "power" of young people, I am concerned about the real intention behind them. Let me explain.

I'm finishing up the "Meaningful Student Involvement" series - I gave you the first one, right? There are 3 more - a resource guide, a story book, and a literature/research review.

I've read a bit by this education professor named George Counts. Over sixty years ago he wrote about the tendency of so-called "progressive" teachers to romanticize the view of students in schools. These teachers would paint pictures of "democratic" classrooms, where students were busily engaged in inductive learning and intense intellectual exchanges. These teachers supposedly honored “student voice,” ownership, and meaning-making over rote memorization. Sounds good, right?

Counts ripped this imaginary world apart, criticizing the teachers for their lack of interest in the actual realities many students face in their schools and communities. He said that what the teachers were doing was actually manipulating students into believing they had some measure of power; but because this existed nowhere else in these young people's worlds, it was a ruse, at best. At worst it perpetuated the oppression the students faced, further corraborating the inability of young people to participate in social change.

Ah, voting. Who are young people going to vote for? Why should they vote for that person? How can young people, as an electorate body, hold politicians accountable? I'm afraid that by advocating young people to put their faith in democracy in voting, these kinds of articles will do nothing more than perpetuate the cynicism a lot of young people face towards democratic participation - particularly if another 2000-type voting fraud happens.

There is a gaping wound in the face of democracy Sven, and without romanticizing reality, the hope of young people is leaking out. I don't think voting is the answer, and I'm a little leary of people who advocate it as such (the author of the article, not you!)

But now what, my friend?

Posted by: Adam at December 29, 2003 10:53 PM

Oh, and one more thought: My work is brought to life by commitments to and hopes for radical democracy. By democracy, I mean what John Dewey called a way of life—a way of life that embodies a generous belief in the possibilities of human nature and that entails the obligation to work to create the conditions that would allow human capacities to develop and flourish. While it entails the polling place, hat obligation extends far beyond the voting booth. It extends into the heart of our everyday lives: transporation, education, health, community living, governance, and social interactions.

I begin to hint at this in meaningful student involvement: instead of seeing the student as a mere "learner" in schools, I propose that students can be (and are already) planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers, and advocates in schools.

In our communities? Young people have 100s of roles: family members, sisters, daughters, sons, brothers; neighbors, friends; democrats (in the active sense of the word), members, leaders, followers; and dozens more.

Radical democracy is the intersection between activity and purpose; a juncture where either trains collide in the night, or friends meet during the day. The where and when are unclear, and that's why YL is squarely central to radical democracy: YL is an immediate, urgent struggle that demands collective action for the common good of all people.

That's where I wanna be. In the immediate, urgent struggle for the common good of all people.

Posted by: Adam at December 29, 2003 11:02 PM

I disagree with your first post, Adam.

I fail to see the harm in having an enclave of democracy and rights in an otherwise autocratic world. I sure know I would have benefited greatly from being in such a school, and perhaps seeing the contrast between it and my life outside of the school would motivate me to go and do something about it.

Most revolutions and reforms occur not simply because the oppressed just get fed up with their situation. If they expect to be treated like dirt, and they are, then they aren't upset. Change occurs when they expect something much more and don't get it. Giving youth a taste of freedom in a free school would raise their expectations to the point where they would no longer be content about the discrimination they face in the outside world, and they would organize to do something about it. I think this should be a source of hope.

And if there is something wrong with voting, what do you suggest?

(and why can't we have these discussions on the YR Leader List?)

Posted by: KPalicz at February 21, 2004 08:03 AM