Ababiy: Our newfound civic energy cannot end at the polls

Vote on Nov. 6, but continue to engage representatives and hold them accountable.

Jonathan Ababiy

“The real test is going to be Election Day,” David Hogg, a founder of March for Our Lives, said to The Washington Post while doing an event in Minneapolis. “Young people and Americans in general are angry. Americans are inspired to go out and make this change. And this is just the beginning for a lot of young people.”

Hogg isn’t wrong. There’s a lot to be angry about: skyward tuition, routine mass shootings, an uncertain job market and a President who announces political decisions on the same app where most of us find our memes. So much is happening so quickly in politics that it’s easy to forget about what pressing national issue you were mad about just months ago. How easily did you forget about all the Central Americans detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement?  

The coming midterm election has shaped up to be a natural outlet for the anger of the youth. An assortment of people and groups have been working to make sure this anger shows up as a check on a ballot somewhere. Billionaire Tom Steyer has poured money into activism groups pushing for a “youth wave,” MTV is running ads to encourage people to vote. And, in an odd turn of events, Kanye has come out in support of Donald Trump and Taylor Swift for the Democratic Party. 

My colleagues at the paper have written about the importance of this election and why you should vote. I agree with them. Voting is crucial for a healthy democracy. But, just as importantly, the civic energy we feel must not end at the polling station. The politicians we elect on Tuesday will disappoint us — they always do — but with the institutions and social movements fueled by our newfound civic energy, we can keep them accountable. 

One can look to former President Barack Obama’s Democratic 111th Congress as an example of how politicians fizzle in power. Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, yet their biggest legislative achievement was a new health care system based on former Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s policies. Democrats had the potential to make Obamacare revolutionary with a public option, yet caved to the demands of the insurance industry. When Republicans finally won the majority, after campaigning on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they themselves whiffed on dismantling it. 

Now, after Obama’s failure, health care affordability remains a central campaign issue. On-the-ground activism has catapulted what was once an obscure policy, “Medicare For All,” into an election talking point that around 67 percent of Americans support, according to Axios. When politicians couldn’t deliver, labor unions and activists kept plugging away on the ground. Through organizing and social movements, teachers and students have also catapulted once-minor issues, such as school funding and safety, into the national sphere. These Americans will keep fighting until their issues are addressed, no matter what party is in office. A blue wave doesn’t mean our problems are over. 

What Hogg said so well is that “this is just the beginning for a lot of young people, which must be. We must keep marching for our lives, sitting in on campus and joining broader social organizations. That’s where real power comes from. We can do more together as citizens than we can praying that our favorite politician will accomplish what they promised. Politicians come and go, but social solidarity is here to stay. This midterm is the only the beginning.”