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Audrey Watters

I'm Not Really With Her, But...

4 min read

Cross-posted to FB...

I had a lengthy conversation with my 23-year-old son today about politics. “Are you registered to vote?” I asked tentatively. (I hate vote-shaming.)

This isn’t the first election where he’s eligible to vote; this is his first election voting.

I know that many pundits like to sneer at “millennials” for some perceived political apathy, for their (supposed) low voter turn-out, for their (supposed) preference for third-party candidates, what have you. Much of this is simply a caricature of “millennials,” a pervasive and perpetual disgust at “kids these days.”

My son and many his age are far from apathetic. They are, however, full of anxiety – about the economy, about their future, about climate change, about violence, about injustice. And my son and many his age are angry. They are angry that they’re set to inherit a world ravaged by war and hate and destruction and shitty jobs marketed to them as “the freelance economy.” They are angry at institutional power. But they are frustrated by extra-institutional power too.

My son is voting for the first time. He’s voting for someone but, like so many of us this year, he’s primarily voting against someone. Like me, he would have preferred Bernie. He’s frightened about the outcome of the election – not just who will win, but the repercussions of the violence and hatred that Donald Trump has legitimized and the effects that this country will have to bear long after November 8 has come and gone.

He’s aware how much of this violence and hatred is racialized and gendered. I’m surprised, quite frankly, to see how much the former in particular has become a focal point for this political awakening. Part of it, no doubt, comes from his experiences as an addict who’s managed to “get away with it” – no criminal record, no jail time.

My son is one of those “young white men without a college degree” that I think the right wing has long believed they can whip up into a populist, nationalist, racist furor. He was pretty frank when I talked to him on the phone today – he thinks that all over North America and Europe that the right wing still can.

We talked about the role that education and technology play in that. He was much more upset about the latter. “I read some bullshit on Breitbart last week, and then Facebook suggested I ‘like’ the KKK.” We talked about algorithms and filters. We talked about the combination of ignorance and incuriosity that a fair portion of the media – old media, new media, new new media – rely upon.

We talked a lot about Bill Clinton – the first President I ever voted for – and his betrayal of my ideals. He has a vague memory of my calling from a payphone just outside of Seattle on November 30, 1999 to reassure the family that, despite the tear gas and rubber bullets, I’d survived the WTO protest. We talked about the environmental activism that he grew up around and how, long before September 11, the Clinton Administration was ready to criminalize it. We talked about how his dad’s drug convictions shaped his ability to get financial aid.

We talked about the past. We talked about the future.

He’s utterly dispirited, and that is just crushing to me, particularly when I think of how the Obama campaign’s message was “Hope.” I confessed to him my own fears: I check the poll numbers at 538 several times a day. I told him that talking to him and hearing about his commitment to vote made me feel a little better. We’re not really “with her.” But we’re with each other on this one. We’ll check the box by her name, knowing we have to do much much more than vote if we’re going to make progress.