Apathetic or Craving Something More?

Allison Boldt, Contributor

sex appeal–noun

1. the ability to excite people sexually.

2. immediate appeal or obvious potential to interest or excite others, as by appearance, style, or charm:

a house with no sex appeal.


We’re all aware of the stereotype: Generation Y is apathetic in the face of the huge political, social and environmental issues of the day. Despite being impeccably plugged in, we Generation Y’ers are largely tuned out. True, there are the few and far between “on the ground,” working on GOTV efforts or interning as policy advocates, but as a whole, we are unengaged.

I do not think this stereotype accurately reflects reality. From my perspective, we’re not apathetic to political issues at all. We are detached from the traditional political system.

Fact: Obama could not have won the presidency without us, the network of texters. And fact: we are not uninformed. On social media sites we swap posts about the atrocities of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if we don’t turn out in the same massive numbers to protest as our parents did in the Vietnam era. We debate healthcare amongst ourselves in a similar fashion, if few of us physically organize around the issue.

This suggests our organizing is taking on a less physical and more virtual character. In a time when we are connected to each other through the Internet, social media and Smartphones, we have all seen how effective organizing around technology can be—think donations texted to Haiti and internet petitions with thousands upon thousands of signatures. These novel forms of organizing reflect venues we have created to push our way into the traditional political system.

The problem is that this system is largely lackluster. And while we have found some new ways to participate, the more conventional political structures overwhelmingly do not appeal to us.

This tendency can be seen when examining the most important of these structures: the political party. Young people are less likely than their parents to identify as Democrat or Republican. Some sources estimate that 50 percent of voters under 30 identify as Independent. Even during the historic Obama-McCain election, when students were genuinely interested in the phenomenon that was Obama, the number of students that would consistently turn out for College Democrat meetings at my undergraduate university in Wisconsin was typically less than 30—this on a campus of close to 9,000 students.

What gives?

One reason behind this tendency may be that political parties lack an illusive sex appeal that our generation craves. Take a look at the Young Democrats of America website and try to argue that there is “immediate appeal or obvious potential to excite.”  Shockingly, Youngrepublicans.com is even less sexy.

My message to Democrats and Republicans is not, “be sexier,” at least not on the scale of the individual; my message is more like, “iPad.” While both parties are bending over backwards to cater to private corporations and their policy preferences, they have failed to incorporate an important lesson that private companies like Apple have to offer. Apple products are immediately intriguing, with their sleek designs and provocative but charming advertisements (the iPod dancers,  the Mac guy vs. the PC guy). Apple products have sex appeal.

The Obama presidential campaign recognized the value of sex appeal.  Like Apple, it spun its product in elegant packages like “Change” and “Yes We Can.”  Aside from having sex appeal, these messages also resonated with very real political desires of the Generation Y’ers. On top of this, the campaign used trendy, almost Andy Warhol-esque postcards, bumper stickers, buttons, etc. And in contrast to many clunky political websites, the Obama campaign built a sleek page and took advantage of existing social networks like Facebook and Twitter, each with its own built-in sex appeal and user base.  Through these tactics, supporting Obama became something desirable, almost like having the Mac over the nerdy PC.

That the Democratic and Republican parties have not caught on to the success of these tactics is surprising. Unless the parties are content with the number of young people already devout enough to identify as a Democrat or Republican, the parties should want to reach out to the masses of “apathetic” young people to ensure their party’s continued growth and success. To this end, it seems that incorporating some of Obama’s strategies would be a good place to start.

I have to wonder whether the parties are actually ready to embrace the demographic deemed “apathetic.” As the Democrats’ embracing of Black and Latino voters invariably pushed the party to the left, so too would the embracing of the Internet generation change the dynamic of both parties. For instance, with the Independent perspective, young people are less tied to platforms and more solution-oriented.

Perhaps for the time being it is easier to write us off as apathetic.

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Meet Krystal Ball, Virginia’s 1st District Democratic Candidate for Congress

Stephanie Rushford, Associate Editor

Krystal Ball has created quite a stir in recent weeks in her campaign for Virginia’s 1st district Congressional seat, which is currently held by Republican Rob Wittman. In her campaign YouTube video, titled “On the Road with Rob,” she carried a cardboard cutout of Rep. Rob Wittman around the district, introducing “your Congressman” to voters who would not likely meet him otherwise. Expectedly, Ms. Ball’s video faced criticism from Wittman’s staff, with his spokesperson Casey Werderman, calling her “cute.”

Yet, Krystal Ball’s campaign—whether “cute” or not—represents how Generation Y will change how business is done on Capitol Hill. Accountability and Accessibility are some of the central themes in Ball’s “On the Road with Rob” video, which she stressed while speaking to EARLY RISERS, “I have really made an effort to not just be with Democrats in the district but really to reach out to groups across the spectrum, and let them know very honestly where I stand, but let them know that my door is open and my mind is open. So that is a dialogue that I will continue if I have the honor of representing this district.”

Furthermore, Ms. Ball is committed to changing the environment of Washington D.C. by stating,

“I am big supporter of Campaign Finance reform, I think one of the biggest problems in our system right now is the particular role that money plays and it does make politicians more accountable to the [groups] that have the money, whether it’s large donors or whether it’s large corporations or special interest than to their own constituents.”

In addition, Krystal Ball supports the current proposed Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow prospective candidates, who met the criteria, to receive federal funding for their campaign to offset costs.

While the Washington D.C. establishment may consider Ball’s promise for campaign finance reform naïve, her allegiance to her supporters instead of large corporations speaks to Generation Y’s skepticism of how business is conducted on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, if elected, Ms. Ball seeks to end the cozy relationship between Congress and special interest by banning lobbyist gifts to members of Congress, and she would like “a lifetime ban on lobbying for former members of Congress.” However, Candidate Ball said that she has received money from some PACs, stating: “I have seen where my interests have lined up with other organizations, and then found it to be a mutual beneficial relationship.” Nevertheless, she stresses for the current Fair Elections Now legislation, [the bill] really focuses on lower dollar contributors, so that way the emphasis is not on special interest and it’s not on corporations, it’s really on individuals who are willing to make an investment in your campaign.” Currently, the Krystal Ball campaign has had over five thousand individual donors nationwide, with the average contribution at $25 dollars.

Additionally, Krystal Ball advocates for marriage equality, with the majority of Generation Y: “I support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, [which] would put the ball in the state’s court, but it would make it so that if one state allows gay marriage all states have to recognize it.” As well as gay rights, Ms. Ball has been a fierce supporter of reproductive rights, “the federal government should not interfere in those personal decisions, because ultimately, I do not think women make these decisions lightly.” Furthermore, Ms. Ball said that choice comes down to “trusting the woman” and, that it is “ a decision that is best made between the woman, her doctor, her family, and her God.” In addition to reproductive rights, Ms. Ball is excited that the recent healthcare legislation made it illegal to discriminate healthcare coverage based on gender. If elected in Congress, she would fight for an increase in paid maternity leave.

Interestingly enough, while Ms. Ball may be in favor of gay rights (and pro-choice legislation) she does not make mention anywhere on her site of her progressive views. Ms. Ball believes in “Pragmatic idealism,” which she says is a value that shared among Generation Y:

“I think this is something that our generation tends to have in common, because on the one hand [Generation Y] is young and we believe that we can make things better, and we are optimistic, and we are hopeful, and those are great things. But we don’t have our head in the clouds, we know that there are sometimes political realities. We know that it takes some pragmatism, and some reaching across the aisle, and some compromise to get things done.”

Ball highlights President Obama’s recent healthcare legislation an example of Pragmatic Idealism:

“The bill that passed was not perfect, there are additional things I would have liked to have seen [in the bill]. The process, in my opinion, did kind of stink. But ultimately if I had been in Congress I would have voted for it, because I think it was important that we take a step forward and that we do something.”

On the economy, Ms. Ball is fiscally conservative compared to the Democrats in the 110th Congress. She would like a 50% cut in payroll taxes for new small businesses. Yet, Ms. Ball supports the recent extension to unemployment benefits,

“We are still in the worst recession since the great depression, and there are whole lot of people who are hard working and doing everything they can to find a job, but there’s nothing out there for them, so that is absolutely something I would have supported. I think that continuing the extension is something we have to stay on top of, and play by ear, and see how we recover as a country, and how the economy recovers.”

One core principle of Krystal Ball’s campaign is competence versus experience—much of her staff is under 25, and her campaign manger is only 21-years-old—and she stresses that this view is the “exact opposite of entitlement.” Further stating, “We think everybody should be judged based on their merit and not on how long they have waited in line or their seniority. We think that if you are there and you’re ready to do the job then you should be there to do the job.”  Krystal Ball may be young—if elected, she will be the first woman in Congress under thirty—but she is not canvassing for some Baby Boomer Congress hopeful, she is looking to hold the seat herself.

Krystal Ball faces a hard race with incumbent Robert Wittman, with many stating that Wittman will easily retain his Congressional seat. Virginians will cast their ballots this Election Day, and with little more than two months left in the campaign cycle, can Krystal Ball beat this incumbent to be the next member of Generation Y in Congress? The stakes are high, and Ms. Ball is faces a tough road ahead of her. Generation Y has been called entitled too many times by their Baby Boomer parents; and yet, perhaps a better word for Generation Y and Krystal Ball would be chutzpah.