January 17, 2008
You know that year that changes everything? The one where you’re one person on New Year’s Day and a different one the following New Year’s Eve?
For me, one of those years was 1976. I graduated from high school, moved away from home, started college . . . And I voted for the first time.
Believe me, that voting experience was as important as everything else that happened to me that year. It was part of my political awakening.
I became a minor expert on Jimmy Carter and his insurgent campaign after he won the Iowa Caucuses and I was assigned a speech on him. I also remember being in a motel room some place in North Texas at a debate tournament, watching the convention and news updates as our unelected President, Gerald Ford, fought off a party challenge by a future President, Ronald Reagan. It was an unusual moment in politics, and I was hypnotized by all of it.
Near the end of my senior year in high school, I went with one of my best friends to a church gym to vote for the first time. The memory of community is vivid: going with a friend to a nearby church, where people from the neighborhood – people we’d known most of our lives – helped others through the voting process.
And after that first vote, when I got to college, I remember going to forums where students debated on behalf of candidates and the political parties, and to rallies where candidates for a variety of offices spoke to students. It felt like everyone was involved in politics, sharing passion and a sense that it all really could make a difference.
Those things that came together for me that year – youth, excitement, citizenship, and empowerment – I’ll always associate with each other. I still feel them now every time I look at a ballot. And I wonder about them whenever I see a regrettable tally of young voters who don’t show up on any given Election Day.
We all know that turnout is too low for every age group. But part of me – maybe that nostalgic part rooted in ’76 – most regrets that so few young people participate. I lived through a time that the nation amended its Constitution because so many of these folks wanted a voice.
Even now, there are still an enormous number of people in their late teens and early 20s who are deeply involved and interested in the politics and policies driving this region, state, and nation – they always rev me up whenever I’m around them.
But there also are too many young, eligible voters who appear cynical and complacent by staying away from the polls at the very time when they’re probably optimistic and energized about so many other things.
It’s something that we have to change.
On Jan. 26, I’ll be hosting a concert called Register to Rock at Stubb’s Barbecue. It’ll feature more than a half-dozen young, local bands and, hopefully, a ton of young people who will cast their first Presidential ballots this year.
I’m really excited about the event, partly because it seems impossible to be getting older when I’m hanging around so many younger folks. And I’m looking forward to registering as many new voters as we possibly can.
The bigger goal is for all of us – young and old, Democrats and Republicans – to make service and citizenship more meaningful for everyone. That mission has been evident this year, with candidates crisscrossing the country talking about hope and change and optimism. Those themes will make a difference, particularly when they’re coupled with genuine political drama.
But more than all of that, we have to change the debate. We need to look forward – at the region, state, nation, and world that we’re creating and that we want to create. We need to get away from the old politics, dogma, and ideologies that make current decisions little more than extensions of old arguments. We need new coalitions, new ideas, new approaches, and new blood.
The only way to get there is with the voices of young people, who will have to live in the world we’re leaving them. I hope the concert will at least help some of those voices to be heard.
So please plan on coming out, and please spread the word about it. There will be a bunch of good music, and the radio stations BEAT 104.9, Mix 94.7, and KISS 96.7 will be out there helping us. We also will be giving away some great prizes, including a couple of tickets to the Austin City Limits Festival.
In case you didn’t notice, a bill I was proud to work on last session, which helped out home-delivered food programs, is bearing fruit. This week, Austin’s Meals on Wheels and More received $1.6 million out of the $10 million that the Legislature approved last year for these essential services.
It was genuinely exciting to be there for the award this week. I ran a couple of Meals-on-Wheels routes last month, dropping off food to a few new friends of mine. I met great people, including a woman who served many years as a nurse, caring for folks in our community. I also met someone who now will be able to receive a second meal most days because of this extra funding.
This service is just so important to the people who rely on it. So I once again thank and congratulate Rep. Warren Chisum for working on the bill with me and helping to get it passed. It’s making a real difference.