Like many Americans, the last two weeks have been a stressful time: the 2020 Presidential Election, Halloween during a pandemic, and daylight savings on the East Coast. Yet, stress and anxiety leave room for reflection on relationships, on our own mental health, and on the past.

“It’s not like I cared anyways”

Keeping up with the spirit of the election season, I’ve found myself particularly reflecting on the 2016 Presidential Election, mainly the time period surrounding it: my sophomore year of high school. The 2016 election was intense because there was a lot at stake. As a high school student, nervous to interject my voice, I ignored much of the dialogue around politics and the election.

Throughout high school, I remember my main objective was to “lay low.” I had a small group of friends, the kind of friends who pick up the phone when you call in the middle of the night and decorate your locker for your half birthday. I joined all of the right clubs, played sports, and sang in the choir before school. Trying to blend in came naturally to me. I was observant and knew exactly what or who I needed to be in order to avoid conflict or attention.

It wasn’t long until that passive mentality became boring to me. In fact, it was eating me alive. Ignoring my interests to remain unnoticed was manageable until the 2016 election when I witnessed the fragility of our nation: a cracking infrastructure put under the pressures we have seen manifest over the last four years.

I felt like I needed to do something, but how could I? Would I ever let this spirit of political activism have its moment in the sun?

A surprising realization

A desire to care about something larger than myself conflicted with the necessity to fit in with my peers. It seemed utterly shallow. But was it?

I’ve had anxiety since I was younger, abating it by laying restless in bed, or writing lists on my Notes app to sort out my thoughts. I felt ashamed that I was letting something as petty as “fitting in” hold me back from trying to make a real change in my community. I was sick of the voice that linked detachment and callousness with security and for “coolness.”

Was I the only one who prioritizing “fitting in” over what I was actually interested in? I took to the polls; could voter turn-out perhaps explain why I felt as if I was alone in this interest in political discourse?

What I found was incredibly discouraging:

Taken from an article in Forbes

Since the late 1980s, voter turnout in the youth has been generally increasing. However, the margin between youth voter turnout and adult turnout was glaring, and it always has been. It got me thinking: are my peers just apathetic about politics? Are they too disinterested and cynical? Was it actually cool to just not care?

I quickly started to realize that my inferences were unjustified, and that youth interest in politics could not be necessarily correlated with voter turn out. In fact, since 2000, 76% of young people say they are interested in politics, and 74% say they care about who gets elected. And even further, 81% say they intend to vote.

Taken from Forbes

So perhaps my interests were on par with my peers. But if nearly three-fourths of youths care about the election, why do politics remain such an outcasted conversation, at least within my own community. And even further, seeing this prompted the startling realization: caring simply is not enough. If “care” did not translate into the simple act of voting, how could I possibly be satisfied with simply caring about politics without ever outwardly expressing it?

Was there something irresponsible about pretending not to care?

The time-line

Four years later, I’ve found myself sitting on election night anxiously watching results appear on the television screen. Perhaps this sudden shift of expressing care is simply a byproduct of not living under the pretenses of the high school structure. Perhaps I’ve given up on this idea of coolness, for what it’s worth.

Maybe we now live in a world that honors care and realized the dangers of being passive. Although the full data from the 2020 election is still unavailable, Bloomberg has projected that at least 161 million Americans voted, making it the largest number of voters in US history.

Even further, a November 7 analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University showed an 8% growth in youth turnout from the 2016 to 2020 election.

My own take away

I remembering reading an article in the HuffPost

Spontaneity is a spur-of-the-moment geyser of authenticity. Cool shuts if off for studied posing. Unselfconscious focus on the moment opens the door to optimal experiences. Cool closes that door with judgment. Whenever judgment is in the driver’s seat, you’re not. You’re not alive to your experience when you’re judging or worried about being judged.

Joe Robinson, author of “Work to Live,” contributor at HuffPost

Something about the words stuck. I can’t exactly begin to explain why. Maybe it was the idea of missing out on experiences I would otherwise be closed off to, or it was imagining myself as inauthentic.

Maybe it was the lingering realization that we live in a world where care is no longer enough, and inaction is also an action.

Regardless, I’ll sound like my mother: it’s cool to care.

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