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Op-ed

Sorry, kids, I shouldn’t have doubted your turning out to vote | GUEST COMMENTARY

Students pass a hand-painted sign with election info at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. The youth vote turned out, especially in some key swing states that Democrats won. (Whitney Curtis for The New York Times)

Dear Millennials and Generation Z-ers: I’m sorry. I should have believed in you.

Ever since I started writing children’s books on civics more than 20 years ago, I’ve talked with you in schools, in libraries, and at book fairs. I’ve taken your questions about government and tried to answer them. I’ve known that you want to learn how government works and why. If something doesn’t seem right or fair, you want to know why not and try to fix it.

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I watched you grow along with my own kids through high school and college. I’ve seen how you watch out for each other and care about each other. I’ve noticed that you don’t have the same biases and hang-ups that many of us still have about race or gender or sexuality or nationality or religion or political party. I’ve seen that you value people for who they are, not for what they are or what they believe. I’ve watched you travel and explore and learn about other cultures and sometimes even adopt something they do because you like it and it makes sense to you. I’ve seen you show respect for each other and each other’s beliefs.

For years, when people told me they feared for our country’s future, I always said “I don’t,” because I had confidence in the next generation to do better than we did and to learn from and correct our mistakes.

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So I’m not sure why I lost my faith going into this past election. I don’t know why I believed the pundits who said young people weren’t going to vote in big numbers because they rarely have in the past. I don’t know why I thought that important matters like personal freedom, education, gun safety, and civility and compromise in governance didn’t matter to you anymore.

But you showed us. You proved the pollsters wrong. You turned out and voted, giving us the second highest showing for a midterm in your demographic in 30 years, according to estimates by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

You told us you were tired of extreme partisanship. That you wanted our elected leaders to do something for the people and not just for their parties. You told us you were sick of posturing and polarization and that you wanted action to improve people’s lives. You told us you didn’t care what happened in the past, that you wanted to know what our politicians were going to do to improve the common good in the future.

Because the future is yours.

I think the best thing that could happen in this country is for aging Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers to get out of the way and let the next generations take over. I believe we had good intentions, but somewhere along the way we mucked it up. We saw governance as a competitive sport and not as a public service. It became about winning and not about doing. I’m afraid we’ve kind of made a mess.

But if the Nov. 8 election told us anything, it’s that you get it. You see the mess, and you’re tired of it. You want the noise and contentiousness to stop. You don’t want your personal freedoms to get tossed back and forth like a political football. You want common sense regulation to reduce gun violence. You want the education that’s needed to fill important jobs to be available and affordable — to everyone. You want us to stop destroying the planet. And you’re tired of waiting for us to do it and are ready to take over and do it yourselves.

Good. Go for it!

Syl Sobel is an author of children’s books on U.S. history and civics, including How the U.S. Government Works, Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts, and The U.S. Constitution and You. His website is www.sylsobel.com.


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