Writing Contest Co-Winner
We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editors
Yes, I admit I have a dirty little secret: I do not follow politics whatsoever. Who ran during the 2012 elections—Obama and Biden, Romney and who? Paul Ryan, you say? Yeah, I’ve totally heard of him. You can ask me about anything else. Show me any high school math exercise and I will slap a QED on it within the hour. Give me any piece of figurative language and I will polish off an analytical essay in less than twenty-five minutes. But ask me about politics, and you might as well ask me to fly using my teeth. I ignored television for the months leading up to the election. During the debates I was busy falling asleep.
I am part of the underlying problem behind our broken politics: political apathy, especially among the youth. Unfortunately, I am not alone. Out of my 291 Facebook friends, only one actively campaigned for a candidate during the 2012 election. During the 2012 elections, 93 million eligible Americans did not vote, resulting in a turnout rate lower than the past two elections—continuing a nearly consistent plummet in participation since 1964. Even the Youtube versions of President Obama’s speeches fail to reach their targeted youth audiences: Baracksdubs, a channel that features President Obama “singng” pop tunes, receives millions more page views per video than the official White House Youtube channel.
What dominoes fall as a result of our political indifference? The first domino that falls is information accuracy. The only way politics captures public attention is by shocking us: we listen attentively to provocative soundbites, radical declarations and chant-worthy catchphrases. In our busy, busy world, worker bees have neither the time nor energy to keep an ear open for hour-long speeches. Instead, we catch up on politics—if at all—through the snippets served on the news, resulting in an ill-informed or even misinformed public. The 2012 election deluged viewers with catchphrases (“You didn’t build that” and “47 percent.”) For those many who do not fact-check political rhetoric, damning catchphrases without context become entire campaign policies, gaining undue leverage in a potential voter’s rationale.