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Are we really asking why young people didn’t vote in the midterms?

Okay, fine. Let’s talk.

But if we’re going to talk, can we start by saying that non-presidential youth voter turnout ISN’T DOWN — that it’s been essentially stable since the 1990s? Every cycle youth voter turnout is more or less the same, and every cycle it’s treated as a new Betrayal of the Nation.

And can we also note that while election-week demographic estimates of voting are always crude, the one analysis that we do have at this point says that youth turnout is actually up slightly since the 2010 midterm?

So the question “Why didn’t young people vote?” is already several kinds of stupid.

It gets worse.

We know that Voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise young voters. (AS THEY ARE INTENDED TO.) And we know that Voter ID laws are getting uglier and more widespread. So if youth turnout is stable or rising, as it is, that’s actually pretty clear evidence of increased youth interest in electoral politics.

And while yes, young people do tend to vote less frequently than older people, that’s been true since before I was born, and I’m not that young anymore. Anyone alive today who’s whining about youth voter turnout is themselves part of a generation that didn’t turn out to vote in huge numbers when they were young.

The lesson here, as always, is simple: Shut up, old whiners.

Ready to move on? Okay. Let’s look at the exit polls. They show that youth were the ONLY age cohort who went majority Democratic this week.

Again: Shut up, old whiners. Middle-aged people went GOP by eight points. Stop complaining about your kids not canceling out your friends’ votes, jerks.

And the Democrats’ problem this week wasn’t a bunch of tight losses, anyway. It was a bunch of unexpectedly decisive GOP wins. A bump in youth voting doesn’t fix that. There were a few races, like the North Carolina Senate, where a shockingly huge youth turnout might have flipped the result, but not many. In Texas, for instance, under-30 voters split evenly between Davis and Abbot. That’s better for the Dems than what their elders did, but adding more 50-50 voters to a lopsided race doesn’t change the results.

Democrats got shellacked yesterday, and they would have been shellacked worse if young people hadn’t showed up to vote Dem. Youth didn’t lose this election for the Democrats — they saved it from being an even bigger disaster.

And while we’re on THAT subject, can we talk about the fact that we’re in the middle of about ten different political catastrophes for American youth right now? And the fact that the Democratic Party isn’t making any kind of a serious push on any of them?

Public higher education is being dismantled in this country. Young black men are being shot by cops with impunity. Youth unemployment is through the roof, and the jobs that do exist mostly suck. And on and on and on.

Show me the Democratic candidate who made the case for tuition cuts in this election. Show me the Democratic office-holders who are serious about reining in cops. About jobs programs. Show me the candidates who are fighting for young people, giving young people a reason to vote, a reason to be passionate about electoral politics. They don’t exist.

Democratic candidates and elected officials constantly crap on youth. And despite that incontrovertible fact, young people remain a core base constituency for the Democratic Party.

Why aren’t young people voting? THEY ARE. But how long do you think you can trick them into continuing without giving them anything back?

You want to increase youth voting? Cool. Pay attention to youth voters. Give them some wins on the legislative level. And take youth voter registration seriously — when people are registered, they tend to vote, and first-time voters have inertia working against them.

And here’s another thing we could do: Reduce the voting age to 16, like they’ve done in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Scotland.

Today in America, young people tend to start voting (or not) right as they’re moving — to college, to work, away from home. That’s a roadblock to registration, and to voting, and it’s one of the (many) reasons I support a 16-year-old voting age.

Get folks registered before they move out of their parents’ house. Get them voting. Get them in the system. People who vote stay voters. People who don’t vote stay non-voters. It’s easier to get people to start at 16 than at 18. So let’s do it. And let’s stop whining.

Lemon out.

This post is a lightly edited version of a Twitter rant from last night.

Yesterday a friend gave me her ticket to see Ruth Bader Ginsburg interviewed by Nina Totenberg at the 92nd Street Y. While I was at the talk, I tweeted that Nina Totenberg has a Notorious RBG tee-shirt, and that she wears it regularly on weekends, and that RBG gave it to her. What didn’t fit into the tweet was that Totenberg actually owns *three* Notorious RBG shirts, two of which Ginsburg gave her, from what Totenberg described — apparently seriously — as Ginsburg’s vast supplies.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg buys Notorious RBG shirts in bulk to give to her friends. That’s what I learned last night.

One other tidbit: It was widely reported a while ago that part of why RBG isn’t resigning before Obama leaves office is that she doesn’t believe anyone like her could be confirmed by the current Senate.

Totenberg asked Ginsburg about that last night, and she reiterated it, but then NT asked her the follow-up question: Wouldn’t any replacement appointed by a Republican successor to Obama be far worse, from your perspective? Ginsburg brushed that question off, saying “I’m very hopeful about 2016.”

Between what she said, the context of the question, and her inflection, I got the very clear impression that Ginsburg intends and expects to have Hillary Clinton appoint her successor.

(This post is a lightly-edited version of a Twitter rant from last month.)

When I was a young man, I believed that I won every argument in which the other participant didn’t convince me. If you wanted to best me in debate, you needed to win by my rules. Those rules were “rational,” so if you didn’t accept them, if they made you angry, if they made you withdraw, then I won. I won by default.

I was willing to be convinced, of course. I was EAGER to be convinced. But I had to find you convincing.

I was sure that I was fair. I was sure that I was reasonable. I was sure I was decent and objective and even-handed. But actually I was a colossal dick. And I weaponized being a dick by crafting a self-image that utterly denied the possibility that I was one.

A conviction that you’re unassailably rational is toxic. It’s aggressive. It’s vicious. And it’s profoundly emotional while remaining in total denial about its emotionalism.

Dudes who see themselves as rational wind up rhetorically bludgeoning other people into submission, and their bludgeoning is the opposite of reasoned discourse.

It’s astonishing to me that folks like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris can remain so blithely unaware of these dynamics. Dawkins says the most fatuous crap, then hides behind the claim that he’s just being logical. If his critics weren’t so blinded by emotionalism, he says, they would understand that. Too bad for them that they don’t. Often what he says in the course of these episodes isn’t actually rational — his bizarre categorical statements about gradations of rape, for instance — but even when it is, that doesn’t mean it’s a constructive contribution to any meaningful discussion.

I think reason is great. It got us antibiotics and suspension bridges and laser printers. But it’s a tool, not a goal. Adherence to principles of formal logic isn’t proof of rectitude. It’s proof of mastery of those forms, at most — and often not even that.

Human interaction is never exclusively rational. It’s fluid. It’s intuitive. It’s responsive.

And when you deny that, you’re no longer having a conversation. You’re just being a dick.

Anita Sarkeesian, a critic of sexism in video games, has cancelled a campus speech scheduled tomorrow after the university declined to ban guns from the venue in response to a threat of a mass shooting.

There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, so let’s break it down.

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist media critic who has been the subject of an ongoing campaign of harassment since 2012. Late this summer, as the #GamerGate campaign was heating up, she was driven from her home by new, specific threats against her and her family.

Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at Utah State University tomorrow (Wednesday), but this morning several school officials received an emailed threat of “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if the speech went forward. The email’s author, who claimed to have a variety of guns and bombs in his possession, threatened a “Montreal Massacre style attack” on the speech and the campus Women’s Center — a reference to the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in which a male shooter killed fourteen women on a Montreal college campus in an explicitly anti-feminist attack.

The university announced Tuesday afternoon that the speech would be going forward with increased security, including a prohibition on “backpacks and any large bags.” This evening, however, it was announced that Sarkeesian had cancelled the talk.

So why did Sarkeesian cancel, given that she’s experienced similar threats in the past? Well, that goes back to a 2004 law that made Utah the first state in the country to require universities to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry loaded weapons on campus. Based on the university’s statement this evening, it appears that USU does not have the discretion under the law to ban weapons from a particular event, even in the face of a specific threat against the speaker.

I have to say, this is kind of incredible. That a public university would have the ability to ban backpacks from a speech but not loaded guns strikes me as something that even many concealed-carry advocates might blanch at.

It really is extraordinary.

Update | Here’s the relevant statutory language: “Unless specifically authorized by the Legislature by statute, a local authority or state entity may not enact, establish, or enforce any ordinance, regulation, rule, or policy pertaining to firearms that in any way inhibits or restricts the possession or use of firearms. … “Local authority or state entity” includes public school districts, public schools, and state institutions of higher education.”

Second Update | Sarkeesian just tweeted that that there were “multiple specific threats made stating intent to kill me & feminists” in advance of her USU speech.

Morning Update | USU confirms that “state law prevent[s] the university from keeping people with a legal concealed firearm permit from entering the event.” They say that “University police were prepared and had a plan in place to provide extra security measures at the presentation.” Sarkeesian tweeted last night that she requested “pat downs or metal detectors” at the venue, but that “because of Utah’s open carry laws police wouldn’t do firearm searches.”

It’s not clear whether state law (or state law as interpreted by USU administrators or police) prohibits searches for firearms at campus events. But again, even if such searches had been conducted, individuals with concealed carry permits would have been allowed to bring loaded weapons into the room. According to the Guardian, such permits are available to any state resident who is “at least 21 years old, mentally competent, and hasn’t been convicted of a felony or crimes involving violence, alcohol, narcotics or ‘moral turpitude.'”

The trustees of the State University of New York last Thursday passed a resolution directing all 64 of the system’s campuses to implement an “affirmative consent” standard for use in campus disciplinary proceedings involving sexual assault.

The standard adopted by the trustees declares that consent to sexual contact must be “active, not passive.” Such consent must be “clear, knowing, and voluntary,” independent of prior sexual contact and to consent to other forms of sexual activity.

What does this mean? It means that you won’t be able to claim consent to sexual contact in SUNY unless your partner has indicated that consent in a clear, uncoerced, active way.

What it doesn’t mean, despite the claims of sky-is-falling types, is that such consent must be verbal. There’s no requirement that sexual partners ask permission before engaging in particular acts, and in fact the standard explicitly states that non-verbal communication is appropriate:

“Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) sexual activity.”

The concept of affirmative consent has been gaining ground recently, most visibly with the passage of a California law mandating it as the standard to be used in disciplinary proceedings in that state’s public campuses. I’ve been a fan of the approach since I first encountered it in 2010, when I summarized it this way:

“Under an affirmative consent model, consent can never be assumed. It must always be confirmed. Both parties must “opt in” for consent to exist. When you initiate sexual contact, you have an obligation to pay attention as you go to whether your partner is receptive.

“And no, this doesn’t mean you have to get a verbal “yes” in response to each act. It just means that if one person is doing all the initiating, that person needs to be responsive to their partner’s reactions. An overt affirmative response, whether verbal or non-verbal, constitutes an opt-in. In the absence of such a response, you back off or you ask what’s up.

“That’s it. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t know whether your advances are being well received, you don’t keep advancing. Pretty simple.”

I’m excited to see my alma mater take this step, and look forward to its adoption elsewhere.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here.

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