New voter: a young woman’s political awakening
Hayley Colley of Tennessee is among the Americans who, on Nov. 4, will cast votes in a US presidential election for the first time.
When Hayley Aurora Colley turned 18, registering to vote was nowhere on her to-do list. The sassy California girl with a spray of freckles sought only freedom five years ago when she left the Santa Barbara apartment she shared with her mom and brother.Skip to next paragraph
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Her first year at a Tennessee college was a blur of frat parties, jock boyfriends, and nights of such revelry that she slept through morning classes. She and her friends griped sometimes about President Bush, “but I wasn’t proactive” about it.
Then, in December, the real world hit her. She graduated with decent grades but few job prospects. Gasoline prices were draining her pay as a waitress. And she was concerned about the effects of the Iraq war on young veterans she’d met.
For the first time, Hayley saw links between her own life and the decisions of elected officials in Washington. This summer, after months of procrastination, she filled out a voter-registration form.
This presidential election year has seen a groundswell in first-time registrations and voting by young people, a group with notoriously little interest in electoral politics. An estimated 17 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 voted in a presidential primary or caucus this year, up from 9 percent in 2000, according to CIRCLE, a College Park, Md., group that tracks youth civic participation. All told, more than 6.5 million Americans under 30 voted in the nomination contests.
Polls suggest that much of the credit belongs to Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president whose passionate calls for change in Washington have roused an army of young volunteers.
Hayley supports Senator Obama but is no activist. She can’t parse policy positions, owns no campaign bumper stickers, and doesn’t blog. She registered to vote after Tennessee’s primary, with an eye to the November election. She applied not at the county elections office, but while waiting for Pearl Jam to take the stage at a Woodstock-style rock festival not far from here.
Still, in many ways the 23-year-old is typical of her generation – a young woman who might well have skipped another election, were it another place or another year.
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Hayley grew up poor in a glittery city of seaside homes. Talk in the family’s one-bedroom rental was not about politics, but money. Her mother moved to Santa Barbara to be closer to children from a former marriage and soon found herself working two jobs.
Hayley let herself into an empty apartment after school, and ironed the waitressing uniform her mother would put on after a day job as an office secretary. While friends at San Marcos High School drove BMWs and shopped at Juicy Couture, she and her mom went to discount stores and Goodwill. Several days a week, Hayley waitressed alongside her mother for money for clothes and movies.