By John Kanelis
Young people want to be heard.
They want to make statements when given the opportunity. They want to be seen as relevant to their world. However, history has demonstrated a troubling aspect of young people's stated desire to become part of the decision-making process; it is that they don't always act on that desire.
Panhandle PBS's series "Live Here" is going to examine the local impact of young people's civic involvement in a segment to be broadcast on Feb. 4.
Panhandle PBS senior content producer Karen Welch talked with Whitney Kelly, a workforce trainer with the Amarillo College Business and Industry Center. Kelly provided some fascinating perspective on the differences among generations since the Baby Boomers came into the world after World War II.
The "millennials," according to Kelly, are prone to answer questions "immediately," using text-message devices. They want immediate responses to their own concerns and they make stunning use of available technology to send and receive responses from their friends, associates and family members, Kelly said.
Does that translate directly into greater civic involvement? The numbers say otherwise.
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Amarillo conducted a municipal election this past November. The citywide ballot contained a non-binding referendum that sought to determine the public sentiment on whether to build a multipurpose event venue—known commonly as the MPEV—in downtown Amarillo; the MPEV would contain a ballpark where a minor-league baseball team would perform.
It generated tremendous political discussion. It also brought forward an organization called the Amarillo Millennial Movement, comprising mainly of young city residents who were energized enough to speak publicly—and often—about the MPEV. They used social media with tremendous gusto to get their message out, which essentially was this: We want to remain in Amarillo after we get our education—but we want the city to offer us something to keep us here.
The MPEV, they said, could be their inducement to stay, provided that the city developed downtown into a first-class entertainment district.
Did they turn out in massive numbers to support their message?
Well, not exactly.
According to Potter and Randall county election returns, the millennial generation did what they usually do: It stayed home and let the older voters have the greater voice.
Randall County's portion of the city electorate showed that of all the votes cast in the Nov. 3 election, 9.34 percent of them came from the populaton aged 18 to 35 years old; Potter County's millennial voting bloc was 8 percent. In both counties, the largest single age demographic were voters who are 66 years of age and older: Randall County's percentage was 36.38 while Potter County's older voters comprised 37 percent of the total number of ballots cast.
Look at it another way.
The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the voting age in this country from 21 to 18 years of age. The amendment was ratified in 1971, meaning that the 1972 presidential election would be the first to include 18-year-old Americans who were then eligible to vote. The Vietnam War was still raging and a major line of thinking then was that the war would bring young voters out in droves to have their voices heard.
The three previous presidential elections produced total voter turnouts of 62.8 percent in 1960, 61.9 percent in 1964 and 60.9 percent in 1968.
The 1972 presidential election voter turnout? 55.2 percent.
The nationwide presidential voter turnout has exceeded 60 percent exactly once since then, in 2004, when President Bush was re-elected in the campaign against U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Remember the 2008 election in which Barack Obama's candidacy was supposed to "transform" the political landscape and in which the young senator from Illinois was employing social media like never before to energize young voters? The turnout fell back to 58.2 percent.
Therein might lie the hurdle facing Amarillo's millennial population as it seeks to ramp up its involvement in civic affairs. History doesn't bode well for young people who want have a greater voice in the future of their community or their nation.
The task now for those who do all the talking is to get the rest of their fellow millennials to put their own stamp on the decisions we are making.