"Put Your Butt in the Chair!" (Or, the Reason We Should Vote)

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.

I can’t count the number of times that I heard one of my parents (usually my mom) tell me that the way to get something done was to “put your butt in the chair and do it.” Sometimes it was homework: the intimidating chemistry lab report or the list of verb conjugations to memorize. Other times it was my own creative desire: a poem I said I wanted to write, the recipe I promised I would try. “Put your butt in the chair and do it!” they would say when I whined that I was hungry, tired, anxious, or apathetic about the prospect of my tasks.

I think that’s the perfect, if not most polite, injunction I want to give my peers. I want to tell us (myself most) to put our butts in the chairs, the voting booths, the difficult conversations about politics, the debates over dinner or in dorm room lounges.

We’re a complaining lot, we young leaders. We complain about the lack of accountability in politics. We complain at a lack of real choice between candidates, a lack of policy stances on issues that we care about, an overemphasis on the red or the blue, too much government, too little government. In the general election next week, we have a significant amount of power. The “youth vote” (typically counted as voters under the age of 30) is coveted by Republicans and Democrats across all states. We have power to shape the election.

We don’t deserve it. President Obama and Governor Romney are busy trying to win our vote when we have often disdained political engagement and contented ourselves to pass by the voting booth, tweeting to our friends about how much we hate politics. The 2008 election saw over 2 million of the under-30 crowd at the polls – an astonishing increase to 52 percent. It was a national story for months, and President Obama’s victory was credited in part to his ability to turn out precisely our votes.

This election saw more voter turnout by our age group since 1972 (when the voting age moved from 21 to 18). Newspapers, bloggers, political pundits and policy wonks all raced to comment on the “youth vote” – how much had it carried President Obama’s victory? Was it reliable? What would happen in 2010, or 2012? The 18-29 year old age group got an astonishing amount of press in 2008, and I would not be surprised if we see as much in the next few months.

What does this mean for us, sitting in the age bracket? What is our responsibility, not only as citizens of a country and participants in a democracy, but especially as a powerful group, whose voice matters in many ways (quantifiable or not)?

We should put our butts in the chair and do it. We should engage with this system, not despite our concerns and complaints, but because of them. Our country established its law under a constitution that granted us the right to “petition our government for a redress of grievances.” As a 22 year old, I feel comfortable with the grievances. I have a long list (maybe you do as well, readers): concern for environmental stewardship and economic freedom, concern for health and education reform; a deep desire to temper technological progress with sound moral reflection. It is the first part – “petitioning my government” that I seem unwilling to do. I won’t put my butt in the chair and vote. I won’t visit Washington and meet with staff from my representative’s office, or write a letter to my member of Congress, or even get involved in local politics and governance in my town.

I challenge us to imagine ourselves as at the center of this business of governance. We are citizens. We live under the laws of the United States. On November 6, we have an opportunity to put ourselves in the public square with all of our energy and mindfulness and talent and confusion.

Could we begin there?

-Hilary Sherratt is a recent graduate from Gordon College, where she majored in Religion, Ethics and Politics. She is currently working as a grant writer at Gordon, and loves all kinds of writing. She hopes to eventually get her PhD in theology or history. She blogs about everyday life at http://thewildlove.wordpress.com and tweets at @hilarysherratt