“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” was a call to public service, and it was addressed to those disillusioned citizens that knew not of their significance and their potential. Specifically, these words were meant to inspire those who where felt as outsiders of government, in a time where a Nation was still discovering its potential greatness.
When John F. Kennedy uttered these words, the youth’s faith in their government skyrocketed and they grew plump with pride. It was to be a milestone in his extensive campaign for the inclusion of the youth in matters of civil service. Previously, during his presidential campaign in 1960, he suggested the creation of the Peace Corps., only to be derided and mocked by establishment leaders and incumbent President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
That was then. That was when the young people of the United States were barely included in the electoral process or even in public affairs. A lot has changed, but there are still those few, skeptical figures who stomp on our voices and praise us as “the future of the country” only when our votes are in play.
Sadly, we are not even important as a voter bloc in Puerto Rico. Why is this? How can it be that our only bargaining chip, our votes in the elections, has been underrated and ignored by so many misguided young activists that prefer to strangle and suffocate the opinion of an entire generation? There was a time when young voters were guided by principle and taken seriously by their leaders. There was a generation that stopped a war in its tracks. In fact, here in Puerto Rico, a group of pro-statehood students under the flag of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association once decided the outcome of an election. It inspires but disappoints me that we once had such power, but have slowly let it recede.
Such examples of youth empowerment make me wonder: How did we get here?, but more importantly: Where do we go from here? And I realize that I am part of a generation of conviction, a generation that knows how to show its leaders where they stand. This is still a generation of influence, even when some insist on misusing it.
But what will happen if we insist in being enemies of the establishment? No battle is won by protest. Not even the Civil Rights Act could have been carried without the support of elected legislators that echoed the calling of a people in angst. It must be weakness or fear that compels us to stray from the democratic process. It must be weakness or fear because we certainly have not forgotten the power we hold. And still, we insist. “Don’t vote for any of them” we tell each other. “Great” – I reply – “I will let others decide for me.” How weak are we that mock and disrespect a system we have done nothing to change? This year, we must take responsibility and vote. We are a generation of change, and every means for change must be exhausted. Let us not waste a single vote. Let us be an outspoken generation. This November 4th, go out and speak for yourself.