By: Madeline Coffey
Just a little over a week after participating in poll-watching with WTV at the North Carolina primary, House Bill 2 (HB2 henceforth) was passed in only a day and signed into by NC Governor Pat McCrory. Now, more than ever, voting is important. For the duration of this election season, I’ve been dismayed at the turnout of young people at the polls. Specifically while poll-watching, I only identified two young people during a five and a half hour shift.
You might be asking how these two items of information relate to each other; I can explain. You see, today many young people (identifying with both the Republican and Democratic parties) see HB2 as a discriminatory action facing many LGBTQ+ North Carolinians. The old days of an overall homophobic and socially anti-progressive Republican Party has ended, and young people are the voice of this change. While many young Republicans have spoken out against this measure and others like it, it seems that this hasn’t changed the minds of many NCGA Republicans. Why is this?
I propose that it is because these people make up only a minority of voters. We constantly see young people posting on social media about their political opinions, but what if every person that posted an opinion on the internet actually voted? What if young people took the initiative to write to their representatives and senators? Part of me truly believes that things could change.
While poll-watching, I found that the most outspoken people were of a particular class. Most of them were cis-gender, presumably heterosexual, white men. Many of these men made sure to inform us of their opinions while filling out our surveys. Their opinions were controversial. One man specifically told me that he voted Republican because he didn’t want “men” in women’s restrooms. Another man had the audacity to tell one of my African-American cohort members who was volunteering with me that he thought that the people in the NAACP should, “quit whining and do something.” I wasn’t in the least surprised by these blatantly rude comments, but it did make me come to a realization: if these men were willing to take fifteen minutes out of their day to ramble to two women conducting exit-poll surveys, they had likely also taken the time to write their legislators.
Not long ago, a friend of mine wrote to Senator Thom Tillis about her opinions regarding the action to defund Planned Parenthood. Tillis addressed her in his response as “Sir.” Clearly, that’s who Tillis is used to hearing from. We have to make a change in this. As women, as LGBTQ+ people, and as college students, we need to start speaking out! We need to challenge the voting laws that are designed to hinder our rights. We need to write to our Senators and Representatives. But most of all, we need to take the activism we spend so much time spreading across social media outlets and start putting it in action. One essential way of doing this is going to vote.
I believe that our generation has the ability to come together and start making real progress. Of course, there will always be party ideologies that won’t change. However, I haven’t spoken to many college students who believe in the type of discrimination that is now legal in our state because of HB2. Perhaps if we voted more often, wrote our congresspeople, and were outspoken, this could change.
I think Wake the Vote can be instrumental in this regard on campus and in North Carolina. I think that our mission to empower people to vote can make a change in the ways in which young people view politics. I hope that these things are true. Through educating young people about their voting rights and creating initiatives to become civically engaged, I think we can empower our young people to end this.
We are Democrats, we are Republicans, we are Independents. We are gay, we are straight, we are non-binary, we are cis-gender, we are trans-gender. We are the new generation of voters. But most of all, #WeAreNotThis.