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Despite political apathy, voting is a necessity

These days, plummeting markets, crippled financial institutions and troubling U.S. foreign policy decisions make it easy for individuals to lose faith in the American political system. For some, it is easy to turn this loss of faith into extreme political apathy.

That is simply not an option.

Instead, on Tuesday, Americans must wield their most powerful tool: the right to vote. 

As college students, we have heard quite a bit about the election and the impact of our increased involvement nationwide. Students have turned out in record numbers to support candidates, and the overall trend seems to be one of increasing political awareness.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, “a record 6.5 million citizens under the age of 30 participated in the 2008 presidential primaries and caucuses,” which signals a nearly doubled youth voter turnout rate in the past eight years, from 9 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2008.

However, for some young people, political participation is hindered by an intense distrust of the American political system. Not wanting to be a part of something they are disappointed in and fed up with, some individuals are choosing not to vote in the upcoming election.

In the spirit of rebellion that thrives among college-aged students, many resist imposed authority and seek to change rules and laws that seem unjust. That spirit is stronger than ever, and with good reason: In the past few months alone, Americans have witnessed a flailing stock market, political scandals and disintegrating financial institutions. The dismal state of the economy is almost certainly the result of poor government oversight, as seen most notably in the widespread devastation caused by the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Ideas of revolution should have merit, and the American people should never stop questioning the actions of their government officials. But a loss of faith in the American political system should not lead to apathy and inaction.

On the contrary, the only way to create a government this country can be proud of is to actively participate in changing it. Removing yourself from a corrupt political system will not reform its flaws. Those who voluntarily give up the right to vote strip themselves of their voices and place even more power in the hands of the government with which they are dissatisfied.

The nonprofit campaign “Declare Yourself” is a proponent for voter participation in the election.

Through “strategic media partnerships, celebrity spokespeople, the sports arena, and … Internet technology,” Declare Yourself is encouraging “every eligible 18-year-old in America to register and vote in the presidential primaries and 2008 presidential election,” according to the campaign’s Web site.

To stress the importance of voting, Declare Yourself has created public service announcements featuring celebrities wearing muzzles or other fixtures that inhibit speech. The caption on the announcements reads “Only You Can Silence Yourself.”

The campaign’s Web site, declareyourself.com, features ironic, satirical videos that emphasize this idea.

One such video, “The Muzzler,” features Hayden Panettiere and Jessica Alba in a mock segment from a television-shopping network. Alba, the host, and her model Panettiere are showing their product, The Muzzle 2008.

“If silence is your thing, shop no further,” Alba said, “If you have no plans to vote in the November presidential election, then this is the product for you.”

Organizations such as Declare Yourself are important in this election and their encouragement of political participation can be empowering.

Speaking out against a misbehaved government is a necessary part of American democracy. Those who don’t vote relinquish the most basic right, and duty, we have as American citizens: to speak out when necessary to change ineffective political systems.

Michelle Stark is  junior double majoring in international relations and mass communications.