Essays from Illinois


TIMOTHY AHLENIUS
ELMHURST, IL
High School Student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Internet voting, education

AMANDA BRAMHAM
OAK PARK, IL
College student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Accessibility, being informed, political values

PATRICK P CLYDER
WHEELING, IL High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Requiring voter registration to gain a driver's license, automatic military enrollment for those who do not vote in presidential elections, revoking federal education funding to those who neglect to vote in presidential elections

TAMMY K CUTLER
GLEN ELLYN, IL
College student
Born: 1979
Essay themes: Internet voting, direct political advertising to younger people

JOHN OHLUND
NEW LENOX, IL
High School Student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Election Day holiday, same day registration, Internet voting, third party inclusion in debates

WILLIAM OSTERMAN
BOLINGBROOK, IL
College student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Candidates' failure to address the issues, youth related medium to gain attention

ANDREA PAKIESER
CHICAGO, IL
College student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Getting young people involved in government and politics even if they are not able to vote, challenging students with government and politics in school, changing/adding educational programs

ANDREW SIRIWATT
LINCOLNWOOD, IL High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Internet voting and promotion, more discussion of politics needed

KATHLEEN WHEATLEY
SAVOY, IL
High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Mandatory time off for voting, effect of the economy and time of peace

FAITH YOON
CHICAGO, IL
College student
Born: 1978
Essay themes: Government funded programs for students

FRANCISCO GARCIA
SOUTH ELGIN IL
College student
Born: 1978
Essay themes: Political experience encourages involvement, trust, politicians actual community involvement and visibility in communities

CARRIE FREDERICK
LOCKPORT IL
High school student
Born: 1981

TIMOTHY AHLENIUS
ELMHURST, IL
High School Student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Internet voting, education

"The fact that a man is to vote forces him to think."

John Jay Chapman said this quotation and I feel that it is a very appropriate one when discussing the issue of why young people's involvement in voting has not grown. All throughout your life you are subject to political socialization. This is where the environment and people around you help to determine what political party you are going to belong to. An example of this would be if your parents were Republicans. Then you might be more likely to be associated with the Republican Party later in your life when you become a registered voter. Unfortunately many young people are not active in the voting process. The suggested reasons for the non-involvement are the fact that they do not know who to vote for. They are more worried about college and other things in life than politics. I also feel that if the voting age were lower then you would have an insignificant amount of the population voting. Children and young adults need to be taught about politics and have at least a little amount of understanding about it before they are given the right to vote. If we lowered the voting age then we would have many uneducated people voting more for the fun of it rather than the true reason of it. Voting is important to people my age because it is a new privilege but usually after you vote once it seems to become just a nuisance to keep doing it. We still feel that we will not have any affect on what will happen so why should we vote when someone else will do it for us. Better ballot access would be a plus because there are many people who will not go out into the rain or snow when they are supposed to vote. One thing that the politicians could also do would be to concentrate on the younger aged citizens of this nation as well as on the elderly citizens. The more they appeal to the young adults the more involvement we will see with the younger generations. With the Internet becoming such a worldwide used tool it would be very appropriate to consider Internet voting. Internet voting would also allow it to be easier for people who can not easily make it to the voting stations around their town to be able to vote in the comfort of their homes. Internet voting would also be another way of attracting younger aged voters to vote because their lives are connected directly with the Internet now that technology is growing so rapidly. The more that we can incorporate learning about the government of our nation into our school systems the younger voters may grow out of it. If we follow the appropriate steps and try to focus on our nation as a whole and not just on the older generations as the ones who are making all the decisions the more we will have involvement with younger people. John F. Kennedy once said, "The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all." This is very true. If we as young people do not vote then we are impairing the security of all. We need to vote so that we can help to make this country better and have more involvement of it in our lives. By voting we can voice our opinions as to whom we feel will best run the office or who has the same side as yourself on certain issues like abortion and taxes. The one thing that we have to watch out for are the politicians who promise things that seem impossible to do because they are more appealing to the younger voters.


AMANDA BRAMHAM
OAK PARK, IL
College student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Accessibility, being informed, political values

I agree that political participation is plummeting among young people. I inadvertently came upon this conclusion myself while having a conversation with my father. "Howard, I'm going to be nineteen soon, and I still haven't registered to vote." "Well, Amanda, that is something you should definitely look into right away," he said somewhat surprised that I hadn't registered. "You know, I don't even know how or where to register, except at the "'Taste of Chicago' " " Why don't you ask at the library, or some of the other kids at school?" That's when it dawned on me. Not only me, but nobody I knew had registered. What is the deal with youth now- a- days? Several kids- intelligent, bright kids- are taking an interest away from politics. Lack in participation can be due to accessibility, lack of information, or the negative connotation commonly associated with politics. All of these problems can be fixed, improving political participation among the youth.

Accessibility is a key factor that would improve political participation. Today with the new innovation with the Internet our society has grown to value accessibility even more. If it is not easily accessible, we won't do it, or we may procrastinate. That's not a complete negative about our society, after all; if we weren't "lazy" we would never have gotten so advanced in our technology. Our task now is to advance this technology in the area where we need it. Over the Internet registration and voting will make it very convenient for today's youth, encouraging them to do so. In fear of sounding pessimistic, we as youth have acquired procrastination habits foreign to earlier generations. Election Day vote registration will eliminate problems regarding those that do wish to vote but can't because of not registering beforehand. This tactic encourages people to come out and do it all in one step: register, vote, and continue with their day. Election Day registration accessibility could only encourage more political participation.

In addition to Internet and Election Day registration, I propose registration be sent out to all senior students and returned through the mail. As long as schools and scholarship information can be sent and personal information such as on credit cards through the mail, why not this? Like the Internet, through mail registration would also be a quick, easy access that is less troubling, therefore more likely to take place. This change will prevent confusion and location problems that are made possible by certain registration spots. By having a mail through registration, all-unnecessary worrying and preplanning that may prevent a person is excluded.

Political participation is plummeting also due to a lack of information. This lack of knowledge is not just about the how or where, but also about the nominees. Local elections are not publicized nearly as much as presidential elections, even though local elections are sometimes more important because we see the results of our vote more directly. The information that is publicized is quite confusing. The nominees almost seem to be contradicting themselves. The simplest way to clear up the confusion is by simply having the nominees speak at local colleges in the city they will be representing. That way, we as young voters can match the face with the name and their argument. In addition to the actual nominees, a partial representative should also speak briefly about the basic political process and answer questions. Scheduled lectures at colleges insure that the youth know whose running and give us an idea about which we would like to see on political board. Having lectures at the schools cause the schools to participate. School participation in politics and campaigns will in turn get student's participation. More fliers handed out on college campus will give students the literature needed for reference when it is time to vote. In high school I was paid a few dollars to hand out fliers. It wasn't very much and only a couple of days, but that little bit of involvement got me interested in who else was running and encouraged me to get more involved. The more we are exposed to politics and the more youth see it around school, the more involved we will become.

Unfortunately, the third reason political participation is declining is because of such a negative connotation associated with politics. From my experience politicians are perceived in the same category as lawyers: devious liars. Obviously, the Clinton scandal wasn't a big plus for politics. It makes the public feel as if no candidate is prepared to govern over the United States, so we don't vote at all. Through school and other advertisement, our society as a whole has to turn away from the idea that politics are negative. Several politicians are doing a good job at supporting their community well. This good behavior has to be acknowledged and advertised. By giving a positive outlook on politicians we won't be afraid of it and get involved.

There are several reasons why the political participation is plummeting, but it all boils down to accessibility, being informed, and how we value politics. No American, young or old will go out of their way to support people they don't know, to rarely see any difference in return. As a society, we have to put pressure on our political leaders to see that their promises are met and action is taking place. Adults would care more and see to it that their children get involved. The youth of today don't see the importance of voting. We are the wave of the future. The attitudes of our parents are much different than ours. By not voting, we are allowing people to run our lives based on our parent's qualifications. By voting not only are youths showing that we can be responsible citizens, but also officials that our more in tune to our needs and wants will be taking office. It is the responsibility of all society to get the participation of youth back to where it needs to be.


PATRICK P CLYDER
WHEELING, IL High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Requiring voter registration to gain a driver's license, automatic military enrollment for those who do not vote in presidential elections, revoking federal education funding to those who neglect to vote in presidential elections

In a democracy people possess power in their government by means of voting rights. Voting allows people to choose representatives, to pass or fail laws, and to simply voice their opinion in their government. Although voting rights are present in the United States, in some parts of the world such freedom is not present, which is why Americans should feel lucky. Unfortunately, in the United States, young voters have received their paintbrush or right to vote, only to paint a picture of apathy. In order to uphold the United States' title of a democracy, voter turnout must be increased in the lower age brackets. To effectively increase voter turnout one must explore the age-old theme of man's inhumanity to man. Furthermore, changes in the laws concerning the following three areas, driving privileges, military requirements, and government assistance programs, would increase voter turnout.

Across America, teenagers painstakingly wait for the day when they receive their driver's licenses. A driver's license represents a privilege that offers both freedom and responsibility. A privilege fails to represent a right, and therefore, the government may forfeit a privilege. Currently many states revoke driving privileges due to certain infractions of the law. Building on this principle, the following proposal will link voting to driving privileges. Since the possession of a driver's license represents a privilege, no person shall receive a driver's license without becoming a registered voter. One might believe such an action would cause confusion in some states because 18 is the voting age while 16 is the driving age, but only clarity would occur. Such action would automatically create a national driving age of 18, which would result in safer roads. Since knowledge is gained through experience, a later driving age would allow for more learning time. To further strengthen the new law, any person who fails to vote in a presidential election shall have their license suspended. After taking a glance at that old bicycle in the garage, the number of young voters will dramatically increase with the passage of the above-mentioned law. As teenagers cherish the feeling of getting behind the wheel, they also cherish the safety and security of their domestic lives, or at least they will cherish those lives once the next proposal is passed.

All registered voters who fail to vote in presidential elections shall automatically enroll themselves into the United States Armed Forces. Not only are young voters small in number, so are new military recruits. With the passage of the proposed law more young voters would come to the polls for fear of being drafted. On other hand, the remaining teenagers who fail to vote will help increase the already low military recruitment rates. One might wonder if people might register at all, since the proposal deals strictly with registered voters, but this will not be the case. Referring back to the first proposal, if teenagers do not register, they will not possess the privilege of driving. If a teenager still fears the new military restrictions on voting and chooses not to register, he would not be able to drive creating a cleaner environment. The proposed military restrictions on voting possess numerous benefits, especially the power to increase the number of young voters.

Not only do teenagers fear joining the military and love driving, but teenagers also have to pay for college. To the benefit of many college bound teenagers the government provides an essential role in confronting college costs. With this in mind all registered voters receiving financial assistance from the United States government shall forfeit their assistance if they fail to vote in presidential elections. Such action would almost force large numbers of teenagers and other young people to vote due to their dependence on the government. Furthermore, the proposal would also help increase voter turnout among all age groups due to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. One would think people receiving financial assistance would be eager to go out and vote for the person or proposal that would increase or maintain financial assistance. Unfortunately, low voter turnouts demonstrate that people are not eager to vote. Linking voting to financial government assistance will increase voter turnout among all age groups.

Democracy enables people to interact within their government. Right now the majority of young people represent a rooted tree, as they seem unable to go out and vote. In a time of low voter turnout among young people, the United States must explore the idea of man's inhumanity to man. Voter turnout can be increased with the passage of the above-mentioned proposals concerning the following three areas, driving privileges, military requirements, and government assistance programs. If a person dislikes something, they are going to react, and with the passage of the three above-mentioned proposals the young people of America are going to react by going to the polls.


TAMMY K CUTLER
GLEN ELLYN, IL
College student
Born: 1979
Essay themes: Internet voting, direct political advertising to younger people

The Lost "Political" Generation

Although it continuously dumfounds me, I have always had a mild interest in politics-or at least more than most of my friends. As a child I would watch the presidential elections with my father every four years, and at times we would even have minor debates pertaining to current issues. I would rant and rave about how our government should do this and that, and boast about how I would run for president when I became old enough. I was going to correct all that was wrong with the world. But then one day I grew up.

After I finished high school I went off to college and found a new array of endeavors to fret over. I begin to prepare for my future. My thoughts were consumed with maintaining a decent GPA, worrying about my ill father, and of course, planning my weekends full of festivity and relaxation. There had always been a desire within me to learn more about politics and to get more involved, however, there was never enough incentive, personal motivation or adequate resources to give me that extra needed push. Nowadays, as I wrap up my junior year, I still don't consider myself a "political" person although I do read George Magazine, admire James Carville and am active in the Gore2000 campaign here at the University of Iowa. Nevertheless, if I stopped to compare myself with other young adults my age (18-24) maybe I'd be considered more political than I've given myself credit for.

There is no doubt in my mind that us Generation X'ers lack an active interest in politics, but that is not to say changes can't be devised to reverse this predicament. From what I know about my friends, other people my age and myself, I feel confident that my ideas and suggestions prompt an effective and realistic base for any reform aimed at young adults. Below I have inscribed some common traits and suggested revisions aimed at my age group: We are lazy: I'm sure this little annotation comes as little to no surprise. However, before I taint our perfect image let me first express that I believe the younger adults are no lazier than the older. (Hey, we learn for our elder's right?) Humans in general are just naturally indolent. This is why I suggest that voting become an easier process. Pre-registration should not be required. Any American citizen should be able to walk up to a voting booth, register there if needed, vote and move on with the rest of their daily itinerary. It's important to remember that people aren't just lazy, but they are also very busy.

We like the Internet: My generation is the first generation of the technology/information era. We use the Internet on a daily basis for infinite reasons. We use it to download our favorite music, buy tickets for an upcoming concert, order our schoolbooks at discounted prices and even to look up what astrologists predict for our future. Why then shouldn't we be allowed to vote on the Internet as well? I firmly believe more people would vote if they could just point and click on the candidate of their choice. Rather than finding a ballot box, it's location and adequate transportation, they could just vote during a commercial break or on the train to work (if they own a laptop). We take our country and our independence for granted: Many young adults don't see a reason to "waste" their time on political matters. We've grown up in an age that has accustomed us to take our rights and freedoms for granted. The only war we have seen was Desert Storm. The only political turmoil and disorder we acknowledge has been read in books or seen on television. Communism. . . didn't that end when Hitler was defeated? We're aware that we reside in the worlds most powerfully economic, military equipped and intelligent nation on earth, so why should we bother worrying about the electoral process when the people in Washington seem to have everything under control? This brings me to my next point: We feel that our voices are ignored: Why concern ourselves with parties and ballots when the people in DC have it taken care of? And why should I vote in the next election when I don't care or even know enough about the candidates to make an educated decision. These comments are common among people my age, which also convey us closer to the heart of the problem. Not only do several of us feel that adults deem our opinions and ideas worthless, but sadly, many young adults have grown to except and believe it.

In order to expand youth voting and political participation in America we need to supply an incentive. We must ignite a desire and willingness to get involved, while increasing our youth's interest in both domestic and foreign issues. I remember the first time I read George Magazine. It had been one of the first times, in a long time, that I had actively wanted to read a magazine from cover to cover in one sitting, let alone a political one. Engrossed in the articles I begin to form my own viewpoints pertaining to the issues that mattered, with facts to back them up. However, George Magazine--although a great start--cannot salvage all that is lost in our younger generations. In order to make a noticeable long-term change we need change our attitudes.

Schools ought to teach the significance of politics at an early age (maybe a required national school program); parents must increase the dialogue between them and their children about current issues and political ideologies; and the government needs to grant us more attention and esteem. Then take everything and reinforce and repeat it until political activism becomes more of an old habit than an annoying obligation. Next take into consideration the target market, remember we love the Internet, and direct more motivational propagandize advertising to are generation. After implementing all of the above the rest will lie in the hands of each individual.

JOHN OHLUND
NEW LENOX, IL
High School Student
Born 1982
Essay Themes: Election Day holiday, same day registration, Internet voting, third party inclusion in debates

The political system that the United States of America uses demonstrates the two powerhouses (Republican and Democrat) as the major political parties. The independent party is rarely thought of and usually not factored into debates that are nationally televised. High school and college students are more concentrated on academics, athletics, and extra-curricular activities than senate races, presidential elections, and state elections. These are not a "popular" subject to talk about. Earning the "A" is going to be more important now than the next presidency which will last for the next four years. The "A" will make my career choice, whereas paying attention to politics for a choice that will last just four years doesn't seem that appealing. A way to increase youth voting would be to have Election Day a holiday and for election-day voter registration. If Election Day were a holiday, more attention would be attracted to the polls through announcements at local events, school announcements, and television. If a school calendar listed the Tuesday in November as a national holiday, children in grade school would realize what the day signified. So in the next ten or so years, those same grade school students would know that the second Tuesday in November would be a day to vote. Voter registration limits some young voters from not voting because they missed the deadline, academics, athletics, and other influences may cause us to miss the deadline. If I knew that I had one last chance to register at the polls to vote, I would make the trip to vote. The change would start out not making much of a difference but the difference would begin to grow with each year as publicity takes its natural toll. 'Last minute chance: Register at the Polls.' The candidates for election have so many opinions that it is difficult to choose one over the other, that it makes it a need to see a verbal debate between all the candidates, and not just the major, more popular candidates. There are more than two parties in this country and it is hard to hear about the smaller, independent party. A nationally televised debate would make more people choose one over the other. A nationally televised debate on two or three major stations would make it hard not to see the debate. Granted some will not watch if they choose not to, but for some, America's youth does not realize that the debate is happening. More advertisement on more channels would attract the youth of America. The election would become more noticed. If I were to see on "MTV", an advertisement for the presidency between all parties, 'Watch to see if taxes are going to decrease, minimum wage is going to increase, and if social security is going to be available tomorrow through actions of the next presidency.' That would make me pay attention to what was going to be debated. Online voting is the next step to take. It is more of convenience to turn on the computer, get online, and choose a candidate to lead us. Not all of America will be perfect weather, so in the convenience and privacy of our own home, online voting is the next best step. Today's youth is actively participating online more often than our parents. Through the next few years, the Internet will grow and expand with new members, that virtually everyone will have access to it. The privacy of the home is better than going to a poll booth. As a part of America's youth, more third party debates, Election Day holiday, Election Day voter registration, and advertisement (for all parties) would make voting increase.

WILLIAM OSTERMAN
BOLINGBROOK, IL
College student
Born: 1981

Essay themes: Candidates' failure to address the issues, youth related medium to gain attention
I am not a brilliant student with great insights into the political realm. However, there are some basic ideas that I know are important. I know the government was created to serve the people. I know that I am old enough to be represented now that I am 18, and I know that I want to know how I am going to be represented. I just do not know why every year, people care less and less about how they are being represented.

A lot of my good thinking is done in the shower. This morning I thought about the presidential candidates. Where are the rallies held? Where do they speak? Who do they speak to? Who is listening? I began thinking about this, and it occurred to me that I am not the only person with these types of questions. This big issue of participation for me became awareness. Knowledge is power, right? So, the more you know.

What do people want to know? My friends and I talk about the issues. A lot of my friends are extremely cynical about politics and politicians, and I can understand why. My friends feel that the politicians who represent them care more about winning the elections than the real issues at hand. They look at politics as a context for lying and deceit. I try to be more positive, but it is hard sometimes. Am I going to have to listen to exhausting debates about abortion again and again when I turn on the television or read the newspaper? I have had those debates, and I am sick of them. Abortion is an issue that will never be settled, and it is a waste of time to try. The real issues are the ones behind us. When our forefathers founded this place, politics was pure. The issues had to do with running the country and not with being nicer or more selfish or more popular, younger, or which party you represented. Politics was a duty. The duty was the service of the people. If politicians understand that, then more people will begin to come around and care more about the politics of this country.

I had another idea in the shower the other day. It had to do with how issues can be represented. I was reading in Time or Newsweek about one of the current candidates for the presidency, and there must have been 5 pages of garbage about his youth, education, parents, wife, everything but what he stands for. I would rather read his biography after he is president (or not president). I do not understand how issues cannot be addressed by the politicians, or anyone else for that matter. If these politicians are so smart, why aren't they using all of the resources possible to address the issues? Okay, money could be a problem in that department, but besides television, radio, and newspapers there is the Internet. With burning soap in my eyes, an idea hit me. Search engines could have special sections for issues only; so could newspapers. Imagine clicking onto Yahoo! or AOL to find a special section to read only about the issues at hand and the politicians' standpoints on each issue. Besides keeping the general public up to date on important issues dealing with politics, the politicians would be in check. They would have to take a stand; they would be less able to avoid the issues at hand. My last argument about the political issues is that they need to be known. If the general public thinks that abortion is the biggest issue politicians are dealing with (and avoiding), they are sadly wrong. In the present day, war seems less and less likely. Presidents have received the most attention during wartime, and since full out war is likely never to occur again, presidents must think about what else the job may entail.

I can think of a few issues that need to be addressed: economics, political/world relations, crime, unemployment, education, and most important what the candidates seriously they can accomplish in office. If the real issues are evaluated, and honestly considered by the politicians, then they will be honestly evaluated and considered by the people.

This essay is supposed to be about how involvement in politics can be increased with young people. I hope the arguments above apply. When I first read the subject matter for the essay I was thinking about MTV and the "Rock the Vote" promotion they do. Then, I considered the 1960s and early 1970s. Political activism was at a high during that period. Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the Kennedy Assassination, and Watergate were the subjects of many of the viewpoints commonly associated with the activism of the '60s and '70s. There were singers and poets who spoke out to America's youth about what was happening in their country. Today, pop culture and the vast network of the computer age represent the new generation of young people. More young people know and care about what Leonardo DeCaprio movie is coming out than about whom is running for president. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell spoke to his generation of youth, and made awareness cool.

If more pop-icons would speak out about politics, more young people would pay attention. A famous venue that happens every year is the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Information about the oppression of the Tibetan monks by the Chinese government is spreading to young people via musical artists like the Beastie Boys. I am actually surprised that not as much has happened in reference to the political status of our own country. If politicians want the youth of America involved in politics; they need to work through the youth related mediums. They way to make young people vote is to get them interested. The way to keep them voting is by being honest. We are smarter than you think.

ANDREA PAKIESER
CHICAGO, IL
College student
Born: 1982

Essay themes: Getting young people involved in government and politics even if they are not able to vote, challenging students with government and politics in school, changing/adding educational programs
I'm beginning to see those small folding tables all over: in hallways, lobbies, even in the middle of the sidewalk! Some give out free lollipops; some boom out bass-filled music; others are surrounded by people waving their hands, engaged in lively, perhaps heated, discussion. Yet one thing is always the same: every person behind those tables is working hard to encourage younger people to use their voting power.

Indeed, this is a crusade worthy of much more attention than it currently gets. Many argue that other issues--such as those pertaining to the environment or people living in poverty--are more urgent than a low turnout of voters, particularly in the 18-21 age group. Yet I digress, as I firmly believe that a lack of voter participation--especially among those who have just entered the voting pool--is an incredibly serious problem. After all, if a democracy is truly built by the ideas of its people, how can it survive without receiving fresh ones? In the same spirit, it simply does not suffice to hear from only a few citizens of a massively diverse country! We need to do more to include our younger citizens in our government--whether or not they even have the choice to vote. I believe that changes in the style of political education as well as an increased support of youth involvement in community service will be the programs needed to accomplish such a goal.

We--as a society--need to do more to encourage young people to be interested and participate in the choices their government makes. Voting is not an event that happens just once-a-year: it is an everyday process, that involves collecting and digesting information, from which intelligent decisions and opinions can be made. If our nation's youth is not taught the importance of voting beyond one day in November, how can we expect them to think much of it at all?

I believe there needs to be a massive rehabilitation of the current curriculum used to teach elementary and secondary students about the government. Of course, it is important to understand the system of checks and balances, as well as historical events that define who we are. Yet if a student is unable to see any of this in action TODAY, chances are they will not retain any of those facts and figures in the future!

Students--perhaps in all levels of education--should be asked at least weekly to develop ideas for new laws or improvements on existing ones. This type of brainstorming session--introduced to any social science class--would encourage youth to think of politics as something beyond the textbooks and media scandals, as it is easy to believe otherwise today. Other practices for schools to sponsor that encourage younger people politically are staging a model congress/UN, offering local government internships, sponsoring political essay contests, as well as revamping and exploring the role of Student Councils (beyond fundraisers and dances). Creating politics is the way to see politics as a living, vibrant, powerful tool: perhaps one a student may want to work with in the future! Schools and teachers are responsible for fostering an environment where younger people learn and become excited about the real world. Activities where students become aware and involved with their government are not only necessary for this outlook, but (sadly) neglected.

Voluntary community service is another avenue for increasing interest and therefore participation in politics among young people. On a personal note, I changed my outlook towards my community and the government after volunteering at a non-profit organization a few years ago. I continue the practice today, and will do so as far as I can see into the future. Community service is more than a nice thing to do: it is a way to understand how we all need to work together, and support one another. There are more than enough ways to accomplish this--organizations that need volunteers range from hospitals to offices to shelters, and need help with anything from cleaning to writing to clerical work to even just talking to another person!

No one is left out of being able to participate in community service, no matter what skills or abilities they may or may not have. Support is vital: everyone can give and receive it. Indeed, the government is one of the biggest sources of support for communities: encouraging voluntary service among younger people will help them see that, therefore further convincing them that their vote IS important. I believe that if more young people become actively involved in one of the million community organizations, they would feel more willing and confident of their ability to make a difference in this world.

Such encouragement has already begun. In some public school systems, such as in the city of Chicago, a certain number of hours of volunteer service is required before students graduate. Federal programs, such as Americorps, offer placement, training, and even financial awards for those who wish to commit themselves to extensive volunteering. We are off to a great start in letting younger people know that they are essential to their community and country; persistence and innovation in these programs will be what moves us forward.

As for other changes needed in order to develop good voting habits among younger people, I am sure there are many. Our constitution was written with a degree of flexibility for which such adjustments are necessary. Perhaps in this decade we will find a fair, safe, and more convenient way to vote over the Internet. Perhaps the increased influence of other political parties with a wider range of views will make a system such as proportional representation more suitable than a Congress. Perhaps such a system would be beneficial for us right now! Yet I don't think adjusting the nuts and bolts of our government is something that will alone increase younger voter participation. I think that the voters' attitudes towards their world in general are much more important, and need the bulk of attention, especially today.

Encouraging community involvement and developing educational programs that take a participatory approach to politics will not shift voting statistics overnight. Indeed, these programs would not even be implemented overnight! It may be years before we find ourselves out of the current voting slump. Yet even the best of things take time to happen, and I believe we are already on the track to a more effective and powerful voting population. It is essential to realize that if the values and ideas of younger people are included early on in their education of the government, they will make sure to include themselves when the time comes!

ANDREW SIRIWATT
LINCOLNWOOD, IL High school student
Born: 1982
Essay themes: Internet voting and promotion, more discussion of politics needed

The 2000 presidential election is now approaching, and it is now time to choose a new leader for our country. On what issues do the candidates believe in, and what will they that person do to stand by it if elected president? How do candidates feel about the national debt, taxes, low military enrollment, and capital punishment? These are important questions that are sometimes never answered. The young voters need this important information in order to make such an important decision. If the information is not brought out, the young voters will not know all information and choose not to decide. In order to increase the political participation, information about politics must be handled in our schools, with our families, and have an easier way to find it on the Internet. This would improve the young people to go and vote in our system.

The simplest way for young voters to receive information is by schools. For seniors in high school, this would be the first year they are able to vote. The first time to vote should be something to remember. These high school seniors are now moving closer to the real world. Without necessary information, they would not vote for the reason that they do not know where the candidates stand. One possibility is that schools could have a mandatory half-class about present politics that would not hurt against a student's grade. This would benefit the young people for voting and knowing current issues that are being discussed.

By learning new information about recent issues and knowing where candidates stand on, that information can be shared with the families. The young people can have conversations with their families, which could lead into conversations and debates. It could also lead to new information and unanswered questions in school. This could help spark general interest in politics, and also make the young person feel a bit more mature towards their parents.

Being mature will mean that the young voters will look for leaders that feel the same way they feel. To know this they need information on the Internet, which is now becoming easier and easier. However, looking for a particular piece of information can sometimes be difficult for them. Reliable information is not as hard to spot as false information. The user might give up on search the web for information. By having a known and reliable site that contains easy to read political information would be great. Even if there is one out there, they have to promote it more so younger voters can see and read it when they have the time. The Internet is becoming a more and more resourceful tool- politics has to take full advantage of it.

With new and vital information, votes can now pick their candidates for future elections. When voting, knowing information about the candidate one of the highest factors in that person's decision. Without that vital information, a lousy decision might be made or no decision at all. We can not let the voting participation drop anymore. The attitude of "someone else will choose not I" must be stopped. Otherwise, there can be no complaints on important issues like school funding or lower taxes.

KATHLEEN WHEATLEY
SAVOY, IL
High school student
Born: 1982

Essay themes: Mandatory time off for voting, effect of the economy and time of peace
The United States of America is a relatively young country at the age of two-hundred and twenty-four. We've grown into a world superpower because of our successful experiment with democracy. Americans have become comfortable with the prosperous way of life. We're not concerned that anything will conflict with this comfort with which we are blessed. We're becoming too complacent for our own good, however. To keep the freedom and prosperity that this country enjoys, we have to participate in its continuation. Political participation, for example, is key in deciding how to maintain our success, and who will maintain it. Only 54% of all Americans eligible to vote for a president did so in 1996. Even worse is that, of young voters (18 to 24 years), two out of three didn't vote in 1996. A quarter of those who did not vote said they were too busy or could not get time off work. Young voters today are much busier than they were in 1964, when almost 51% of them voted.

One way to lessen this problem is to require all businesses, federal and non-federal, to allow some time for eligible employees to register and vote. An incentive some businesses could consider would be to pay their employees for time taken to vote--their ballot stubs would validate their efforts when they return to work. The 18 - to - 24 age group is the most transient in the country. As a result, 13% of those who did not vote said they were out of town. However, we have a mechanism called "absentee voting" for those people who know they'll be out of town on Election Day. To encourage more people to take advantage of absentee voting, the local government could mail simple and informative brochures to local residents on how, when, and where to cast their early vote. By offering extra hours for absentee voting, on Saturday or in the evenings, busy young voters can find a perfect time to do their American duty. Another reason given by almost 10% of those who did not vote was that they didn't like the candidates. This is a difficult problem to solve because the candidates we mostly hear about are those who had the money to run an extensive campaign.

The general opinion is that the best candidates are usually and probably not the wealthy candidates. By drastically reforming campaign finance regulations to even up the playing field, voters can have better access to the views, opinions, and goals of all candidates running for an office. Perhaps the worst reason given for not voting was not being interested in the election at all, which a significant 16% claimed as their reason for skipping out on Election Day. Since the number of eligible voters in 1996 was almost 194 million people, some young voters didn't think their vote would make an impact in the election. The media contributes to this kind of thinking because their sometimes overwhelming information on who's ahead and who's behind may cause the voter to believe that their favored candidate will not win even with the extra vote. Media's unbalanced coverage of only the leading candidates also biases the campaigns of the other contenders. Some young voters also may not be interested because of the times. The economy is growing and succeeding, and the United States is not involved in any major conflict. Why change anything when life is so good? An election could mean changing how the government is going to run, so they'd rather not participate. Of all the age groups, young voters are also the most distrustful. We believe everything in government, especially the politicians, is corrupt. We therefore do not take an interest in participating in its election. Sadly, all of these reasons have half-truths in them that keep young voters away from the booths on Election Day. The media does have a persuasive effect on America's voting population, especially on the elderly who tend to watch TV and read newspapers and magazines rather than surf the Web or play video and computer games, which many young voters do.

Times are good right now, so young voters want to keep the status quo. Some areas of the government do need reform because of their corruption or malfunction. All the more reason to vote. Young voters can access candidate information from all kinds of sources on the World Wide Web, rather than hear only what the media chooses to delve out through the TV screen. We can make more informed decisions on who is going to maintain this country's success rather than let a minority choose what is best for the American public. We can recall someone who's not meeting our standards and put forth referendums to government agencies that need to be revised and updated. The only barrier to getting young voters interested in elections, and other political events, is how to inform them that their help is needed and that they can make a difference when they choose to participate.

A federal campaign is needed to show young citizens that participating in their country's political arena would only improve their standards of living. We can boost the economy through the elimination of poverty, unemployment, unfair taxes, and failing medical programs. We can bring to a halt the corruption in local, state, and federal government through recalls and referendums. We can choose who we want to go into office and make sure everyone else has the same fair choice through campaign finance reforms and easier absentee and election day voting.

Political participation is an important duty of all eligible Americans because the dignity and pride of this great nation depends on its success as a democracy. When we participate in that democracy, our lives can only get better.

FAITH YOON
CHICAGO, IL
College student
Born: 1978 Essay themes: Government funded programs for students

Upon close examination of political polls and election-day statistics, it seems quite obvious that the young people of this nation are not as politically involved as in previous years. No doubt, this sharp decline in political participation among youths is due to a myriad of factors ranging from a sense of hopelessness regarding the political process and the complacency that comes from living in a society that seems relatively satisfactory. The young people of this nation number among the richest youths in the world. Consequently, we it is becoming increasingly difficult to open our eyes to the ugly realities of the harsh world outside and the problems within our very own political system.

For this reason, I suggest that the channels through which youths learn about 'the outside world' so to speak, be widened and made more accessible. To date, there are very few programs that allow students to interact with those in situations not as pleasant as their own. "Study abroad' programs are necessarily situated in countries where the standard of living is comparable to our own, and pose to challenge to our self-satisfied paradigm. Students need to be stimulated by hands-on, in-your-face experiences that will convince them of the great need for political and social activism in our global society. These experiences need not necessarily take students out of the country or even out of their hometowns. Injustice abounds in all areas of the world; some would even argue that America is the greatest archetype for social injustice. I speak as an advocate for exposure to the wrong that are going on within our very neighborhoods out of personal experience.

Last year, I was unexpectedly invited into an opportunity to tutor some children at the Robert Taylor Boys and Girls Club. At the time, I was a junior, actively engaged in my studies at one of the most privileged universities in the country. I never knew that housing projects dotted the roads just two miles from our quaint and insulated campus, nor did I have any conception of the poor standards of living that were kept up in those housing units. I could not help but be shocked at the state of affairs in the Robert Taylor Homes, the poor sanitation, lack of privacy, space, respect. I thought to myself, "This is not right, and more of my peers need to know about this". Together a friend and I recruited a nucleus of student who began to volunteer at the Club and to spend time with the children.

Upon graduation, I plan to enter law school and eventually get involved in the politics of health care. It is my personal goal to reform the health care system so that it can accommodate those who cannot afford a decent health care plan, human being like the children I tutored at the Boys and Girls Club. Several among our volunteers have decided to leave, but others are carrying on the cause and are eager to participate in the reforms that are necessary in order to right some of the injustices that were presented so clearly each hour that we spent in the Robert Taylor Housing Projects.

It may seem pretentious to suggest that the government fund programs that force students into experiences such as these simply because "it worked for me." But I believe that without a doubt, our students will return from these journeys into different worlds with a new perspective on equality and consequently, a new attitude toward political participation. Voting, aspiring to enact real changes in the way things are done in the country and beyond, and becoming an advocate for the worthy cause of social justice will no longer seem drab and worthless, but poignant and most of all: OUR responsibility.

FRANCISCO GARCIA
SOUTH ELGIN IL
College student
Born: 1978

Essay themes: Political experience encourage involvement, trust, politicians actual community involvement and visibility in communities

I am currently involved in a campaign for a class project. I was hesitant to participate for various reasons. A main reason was because I revived this notion in my head: no matter what I do, nothing is going to change. As I became more involved with the campaign, I noticed that this thought affected more than just me. It affected every person who lives in a below-middle class neighborhood. There are some who are very involved in the community and demand a change. But most of the people I spoke to just do not believe or trust in any political party, even if the political representative is of their own ethnic background.

Now, if this thought is polluting the minds of the preceding generation, imagine how their children are going to think.

Participating in this campaign has really opened my mind to political issues and political representatives. I feel if the board of education makes campaign participation or community involvement a requirement, then students will become more involved.

We are held responsible, but it is also necessary for political officials to pay attention to young people, too. In all of my twenty-two years of life, I have never met a candidate or even seen one in my community. Not even on Election Day!
I'm sure the candidates are busy with their campaign, but when they are done with their election they need to be in the community, not downstate or in another country. That's why they don't know what is going on in the lives of young people. They only respond when something bad happens. Is that what it's going to take for action to be taken?

Young people need to feel like they are a part of something, that they can make a change. They need to become involved with their community first. A person cannot help others if they cannot help themselves. There should be some sort of community participation by an individual when they are young. If they don't start young then they won't pick up until they are more aware of the problems at hand. It's just like a sport, the younger you learn, the better you will be when you grow up.

Voting laws won't change much, either. If people are not politically conscious, then they probably won't even be aware that a voting law was just passed. You can make all the voting laws you want, but if young people do not make a change in their lives first, especially those in poverty-stricken areas, then they might never become confident in themselves, their community, or the political system.

I grew up poor. But because of the grace of God and my father's hard work, we were able to "escape." Sometimes I go back to the areas I grew up in, and I see change, but only for the worse. So that means that somewhere, somebody is not doing their job. Someone is not listening, a community is not penetrating, or it could be a little of both.

Yet, even though, shouldn't our political representatives do something if they see a community falling apart? And I don't mean by: throwing everyone in jail, destroying old homes and building new homes so the property value can increase and rich move in while the poor are "placed" somewhere else.

If you know that young people are not voting, doesn't that mean that they really don't care? That they feel they are not going to make a difference? I don't care how many "Rock the Vote" concerts you have, either, that just gives us another excuse to party and listen to good music. This may seem absurd but it is the truth!

I am illiterate in relationship to politics. So are many others out there. Most people don't want to waste their time to get involved and learn the whole political system when they are too busy trying to handle their own problems. No one is really teaching young people the voting system. The way we "learn" in school these days is just receiving information, remembering the information transmitted, then taking the test and that's it. Once our civics course is completed, we leave the information right where we received it, in class. If students could apply that information, then they would get a better understanding of how effective voting and campaign volunteering is. I know that it has broadened my perspective. Now I plan to volunteer for more campaigns and vote when election time rolls around.

I am twenty-two years old and this is going to be my first year voting (I have yet to register, don't worry I'll make it!). Why did it take me this long? It wasn't by some old guy, or some rich rock star telling me I should vote. It was until I knew that I could make a change in my community and be effective.

It really irks me when people twice my age could care less about what's going on, or have such a fixed mentality that feel like there is no way out. If I knew that there was no way you could make a change in this world, that it would still be the same no matter how hard I tried, then I would go crazy.

Most of the reasons or complaints I wrote in this essay are not mine. Yes, I would sometimes think like this, but these are most of the responses I heard from people I would try to register to vote.

My theory is: the earlier one gets involved with their community the better chance they have for voting and campaign involvement when they reach the age, ultimately leading to a positive change in their lives and others. Thank you for reading my essay.

CARRIE FREDERICK
LOCKPORT IL
High school student
Born: 1981
Essay themes: Government mistrust, importance of education and mistrust

Politics. A word that is not part of a teen' vocabulary. To teens the government is Bill Clinton, from the lies to the women, from Ken Starr to Monica, in the endless battle of impeachment that eventually became a joke. To teens the government is the manly Janet Reno or clumsy Bob Dole on Saturday Night Live. Government is the thing our parents complain about. Government is a bunch of old white males that cannot be trusted. (Who really killed JFK and Martin Luther King? And how many aliens crashes have they kept a secret since the Roswell incident?) But most importantly the government is half of our hard-earned minimum wage paycheck that disappears every other week. This is government. The school teaches us about how the Founding Fathers started this wonderful thing called democracy with its three branches and system of checks and balances. We learn about how bills are made and laws are passed. We memorize facts, dates, and names and regurgitate them on a test. And that was sophomore year. Now, two years later, after we have forgotten most of what we learned, we turn 18. And now we make the transition from youth to adult. We are the future of this country. This is a scary concept. We are 18. Now we can by cigarettes legally, we no longer have a curfew. And oh yeah, we can vote. The sad part is that there is a connection between the teen's attitude and the adult's attitude about politics. "Who cares? One vote cannot make a difference." And it takes time, effort, and a plan of action to cure the plummeting participation by young people in politics. First, a change in rules is not going to create an interest in politics. The rules are set. Once 18, the right to vote begins. It's a reform in the way politics is presented to young people that is needed. This can be done on a local level or a national level. The easiest way to interest young people is to first start a campaign to register them to vote. Everyone over 18 should be registered. This is exactly what I am going to do in my community. I have so many peers that do not even realize they need to be registered let alone the fact that the primaries are fast approaching. The problem is that the right education is not out there. The result is voter apathy. And registering young people to vote is the perfect opportunity to give them the tools they need to begin their journey with politics, to take it to the next level. That next level is involvement, from just watching political debates to joining a political organization, to actually meeting the people that make the decisions we never hear about. The hard part is making sure that such organizations exist around the country and advertising for new members. One such organization, the Will County Young Republicans, got me interested in politics and I know it can do the same for other young voters. If young voters had the opportunity to meet on a regular basis to discuss political issues, meet candidates, and maybe help out in a campaign, and if these opportunities were broadcast for anyone to get involved, I'm sure the voter apathy would greatly decline. I used to be one of those millions of young people that simply have no interest in politics until I found something that made it real to me. I have met all kinds of important political figures, including our very own Speaker of the House. When I stood a few feet from the third man in line for the presidency and listened to his speech in awe, politics and government and voting it all meant something to me from that point on. I finally realized how great democracy can be. I finally realized that one person can make a difference. And based on my personal experience organizations like the Young Republicans or Young Democrats is what will empower and revive young voters. The most crucial thing I have realized thus far is that government is important; government is a big part of life. As Alexander Hamilton said, "There are two things certain in life. Death and taxes." I think about my future and wonder how many presidents will come and go. Will I get the proper medical coverage for my rheumatoid arthritis? Will there be any Social Security? How many times will we bomb a foreign country? How many wars will I see? I want to be able to trust the leaders that are making these important decisions. And the only way I can begin the fight for a better tomorrow, the fight for better leaders, is by voting. And the only way to make young people realize all of this is through education and outreach.