Building an appetite for advocacy: How I went from ignorant to energized when it comes to politics


“I Voted” stickers are laid out for voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at a polling place in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Olivia Walton, Reporter

Forty-two percent of 18-to-29-year-old Americans believe their vote “doesn’t make a difference,” according to the Spring 2022 Harvard Youth Poll.

My mother always told me to never trust a statistic.

As an 18-year-old and a recent first time voter, I found that learning about our government and participating in the election process increased my sense of self-efficacy. But this was not always the case.

I grew up in a household where we did not discuss politics. I didn’t know my parents’ registered party until late middle school, and even after I found that out, I could not tell you with absolute certainty who they voted for in each election.

The absence of politics and talk of ideology in my childhood is something I both treasure and detest.

I am so grateful that my parents never tried to brainwash me or my siblings with their own belief systems. They believed that we would come to conclusions about the world through experience in our own time; they thought it would be unfair to assume that the knowledge of their experiences would match ours, and our views would be the same.

Unfortunately, ignorance became an accepted normality in our home because of the lack of political and ideological conversation. We scarcely watched the news, we never talked about candidates in local races, and we distanced ourselves from people we considered political or polarizing.

As a result, I had no real emotional attachment to either party, and now swing back and forth on the party line as a registered Independent.

My ignorance led me to be uneducated and apathetic toward issues in our country and our world; I did not care about politics or governmental measures. Besides that, I didn’t know where to even start a search for information.

Then the middle school Y-Club sponsor recruited me to be a bill author at the Kentucky Youth Assembly, and I attended my first youth government conference.

When I got back home from three days of debates, conversation and campaigns, I felt energized like never before in my life; it was as if I finally woke up from sleeping on the problems and politics of others for my entire life.

The conference showed me how engagement leads to ideas, and ideas lead to action. There,I realized how much power the individual holds in the nation’s governmental processes.

I learned that a single voice seems like a whisper when compared to the rest of a population, but when that one voice convinces dozens, hundreds of other voices to say the same thing, the effect is a resounding cry for change.

That first conference set off a spark in me. I joined Y-Club in high school and started to dive into news and learn about politics – I even found myself binging political dramas like “Madam Secretary” and “The West Wing.”

I attended seven more conferences, and even ran for office at one of them (I won!). I felt alive with those people because they, too, understood what it was like to feel empowered and a part of something bigger.

We were naive teenagers, sure, but we were determined that our generation would not grow complacent or indifferent. We wanted to be bold, to be heard and to be a start of a change.

This November, I voted for the first time in the midterm elections. I wondered if it would be as exhilarating as voting at the government conferences.

I remember being antsy; my stomach was somewhere between excited anticipation and nervous anxiety. As I handed the poll worker my Kentucky driver’s license, her coworker looked up and noticed me.

Her face brightened. She asked if this was my first time voting.

I nodded. I couldn’t help but smile at this woman’s obvious delight in me voting. I remember thinking that we should have more of this. More joy shown at youth engagement in government. More encouragement to take action, be loud and stand for something.

Some critics of the democratic system point to the polarization of the two parties or the standstill in state and national legislatures as signs of a failing process. That is not false. We are reaching a point of division on both sides and it is causing serious problems in our government.

We should be able to work together, but it is not the system that is failing – it is the people we put in the system that allow corruption and extremism to run rampant.

If we want to see a change, we need to stop buying into the lie that we hold no power. We need to stop believing that our vote, our choice, our voice makes no difference in the outcome of this country.

If we desire the future of our dreams, we have to start researching solutions, start advocating for our cause and start voting for the people we know can deliver well.

We have to start questioning the beliefs we have held in order to better understand our changing world; our “beliefs” should not be stagnant. Beliefs are formed by circumstance, so to assume that we will have the same beliefs throughout our entire lives is to reject the idea that our lives are just ever changing circumstances.

But mostly, we have to start listening. We need to make time to read differing perspectives. We have to stop thinking that our way or our party’s way is the only way. Bipartisanship could be common practice, not a rare, celebrated headline.

As I reflect on my first time voting and my civic engagement leading up to this point, I feel more confident in my role in this democracy than ever. I realize that we have a long way to go, but I believe progress is achievable with cooperation and open-mindedness.

I believe in my power as an engaged individual, and trust that there are many others who are also hungry for change.