By Courtney Searcy, Online Editor
Knowing I will join Americans in voting for a presidential candidate the first time this fall, I decided I should know more than a few names and party associations before casting my ballot.
I opened a news website, prepared to become a fully informed voter. In my naïveté, I imagined I would emerge knowing of all of the presidential candidates and their stances on important issues, consequently changing the world with my newfound perspective on politics.
About five minutes later, I was completely overwhelmed with how little I knew about politics and the politicians running the show. When it really came down to it, I did not even know what the hot-button issues of this election are.
My zealous attempt to be an informed super-citizen began with good intentions, but it failed. The quest got buried under the hectic schedule that a college student trudges through on an everyday basis.
Then a series of events changed my perspective completely — far more than any political speech or ad could.
Gunfire rang out at a nightclub in Jackson, killing one young person and injuring 19 other people there. Hundreds of miles away, a few days after the shooting in Jackson, a student fired a gun in an Ohio high school. Yet another life was taken too quickly.
Shootings plague the news in big cities as well as occasionally here in what sometimes seems like the sleepy town of Jackson. The victims and culprits often seem to be imaginary figures in a world of violence and heartbreak I have never known. However, the reality of the act sunk in this time when I saw it in the news.
The victim was 19 years old — only a year younger than me. He is just one of several people who were victims to violent crimes in Jackson in the last year. Just a few miles from my safe and comfortable dorm room, families like his are facing problems worlds apart from what I have been exposed to in my sheltered upbringing.
However, the struggles of those living in inner-city neighborhoods often are whittled out of our minds and out of our way. We fall into the trap of staying safe and comfortable on our side of the city.
As young voters, it is dangerous for us to begin insulating ourselves from the issues, ignoring conflicts in our community and assuming they will work themselves out.
The shooting is not simply a matter of crime and punishment — it is an incident that is mirrored across the nation. The problems here in Jackson are a cross-section of the national issues our presidential candidates will have to confront.
It seems the place to begin preparing for this election is not with politicians and political stances. Informed voting begins with knowing about and being pro-active about the issues in our community and in our nation, then seeking out the best candidate.
More than asking which party a candidate sides with, we should be asking questions that address the concerns of our communities: How can we reduce gun violence? Are our gun policies effective? How can we keep youth from following patterns of violence? Last, who is a candidate who has a history invested in resolving these kinds of issues?
Because the United States is a democracy, we all are intricately connected to the welfare of our nation. The crime on the other side of the city is just as much our problem as it is theirs.
I will begin my research again, but this time I will remember the candidate I vote for may make decisions about policies that mean life and death. I will remember that a young person just down the road from me died in a toxic mix of alcohol and conflict that could have been prevented. I will remember that while the government’s rules and regulations often fall short of delivering justice, “we the people” bear the consequences and responsibility to help our communities overcome adversity.