“A lot of times people vote, not for a candidate, but they vote against a candidate” – Interview with Olivia Booth from the USA

This interview was conducted on the 11th of November 2022.

I would like you to tell me who you are, where you are from, and how you spend your free time.

I’m Olivia Booth, an 18-year-old from Navarre, Florida, in the USA. I am a student at Navarre High School. I’m in the 12th grade. A lot of my time is spent doing the performing arts, specifically band, and theater, but I also do other extracurricular activities and volunteer work.

Do you consider yourself to be an active community member?

Yes, I do. I participate in several different volunteer opportunities. So a lot of the clubs and teams I’m a part of work to create community cohesion. Personally, I do a lot of work in the community, I tutor, but I also volunteer at Good Neighbor thrift store in Navarre which is a nonprofit thrift store that feeds and clothes the needy in our community. I also do citizen diplomacy as a youth diplomat with Gulf Coast Diplomacy in Pensacola where it’s a smaller group of people, but there’s been a lot of good work done there. And I also volunteer online with the Library of Congress, transcribing documents for public functions, so that way everyone has better access to historical documents.

Wow, that’s quite impressive. Why do you feel it is important to contribute to your community?

I feel like I’m very fortunate to live in the society that I’m in. For example, I got to exercise my right to vote yesterday (Editor’s Note: 10th of November)  for our midterm elections. And I know, that’s not something that I would have the ability to do in a lot of other places. So kind of doing outreach and things like that, to give back to the community that’s given so much back to me.

Is this really common in America to do volunteer work? And do you feel that it is actually appreciated?

I’d say volunteer work is common for young people because a lot of the scholarships that we look forward to when going to college or college admissions themselves require service hours. The elderly also volunteer a lot because they have free time. I’d say that for working-age people not so much. But I feel like it’s often appreciated. I know when I’ve gone to nursing homes and things like that through some of my clubs, they always really appreciate just the simple things that help them feel better.

How would you describe the United States to a foreigner?

You know, it’s really hard to say because so much of America is very diverse. For example, I live in the south. I live in Florida, which is not only a geographical region, but it’s definitely a cultural region. Really, you have the North, the South, the Midwest, and the West as your biggest kind of areas. And everyone has such different political and cultural ideas in those areas based on the way that they were settled or when they were settled. It’s really hard to describe America as one thing. We do have certain core values, like I’d say, being hard-working, having the idea of liberty, the idea of the right to vote. All of those tend to be core ideas that Americans hold even if they are from completely different regions or have completely different political beliefs. For example, there’s the idea of the American Dream, which is the concept that if you work hard and you put in the effort, good things will come of it. The American dream is often the idea of, you know, for a man and a wife to have two kids and a little house in a suburb, where you’re self-sustaining because of the hard work that you’ve put in.

What do you feel are the biggest problems in America right now?

I think one of the biggest problems is political polarization. The fact that we do have a two-party system between the Democrats and the Republicans, the Democrats being the more liberal, Republicans being the more conservative party. The issue is, nobody really likes either party, to be honest, but we feel trapped that it’s almost a waste of a vote to vote for someone who’s not party affiliated, or for a libertarian, or for some other third party, even if their work closely aligns with your ideas. A lot of the time, really, Republicans and Democrats can be two sides of the same coin. And so a lot of people don’t want that coin, they want something different, or maybe a combination of both ideas. That’s really, really hard for us to get. And it’s not just an issue with politics, it becomes an issue even within families. A lot of Americans who have lived here for a really long time can talk about having family members on both sides of the Civil War. Well, a lot of times you have family members who are Republicans, and others who are Democrats. And it can just get very vicious within families. And it’s also just the fact that everyone feels so trapped within the system. It’s because we have a two-party system, that people won’t vote for a third party. But people won’t vote for a third party, because there’s a two-party system. So it’s an infinite loop. A lot of times people vote, not for a candidate, but they vote against a candidate that they don’t want. I saw that a lot in the election for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016, as well as in 2020. But really more in 2016 that it was not a show of, oh, I want to vote for Hillary Clinton. It’s that I don’t want to vote for the other person. And I feel like I have no other choice, which kind of goes back to the issue of not having third-party representation.

You voted for the first time in the midterms yesterday. How was that experience for you? And was it actually important for the young people around you?

Okay, so there are a couple of things that go into this. For me, my experience went really smoothly. I went by myself, but it was actually really neat. Some of my neighbors from down the street were at the polling place when I arrived at eight because I had school so I went before school, I could see that they already had on their “I voted” stickers. I had my sample ballot with me with everything marked on that I knew that I wanted to vote for. I didn’t vote for example, in Florida, we have the option to recall Supreme Court justices in the Florida Supreme Court, but I know that I didn’t do enough research on that to feel comfortable voting. I had my sample ballot of the things that I did want to vote for like the amendments or positions and things like that. I went and I showed them my picture id, and they gave me a ballot. And then I went into one of these little cubby things and I filled out my ballot. I put it into this machine that scanned it. They handed me my sticker and it took probably seven minutes max. It’s really quick, really easy. And it was a great feeling in the air. You know just a bit of patriotism, but also just because so many of us don’t vote the same way. I know that those two neighbors are completely different politically. But they were still able to kind of rally under this banner of we’re able to vote today and to exercise this right. Which was in contrast to everything you see throughout all of the campaigns and all the racing with the political polarization. So that was nice for me to see. 

What do you think of the way that your elections are held and that you have multiple elections held at once?

Yeah, it can be really difficult as a voter. I actually had this discussion with a friend of mine today, where part of the issue is the availability of information about candidates, for example, in some of the races, they have multiple Republicans or multiple, not Democrats here because of my area but for sure, some of the races had multiple Republicans. And so how are you able to tell the difference between them? I compare it to homecoming queen in the US where it’s a bit of a popularity contest. And I compare voting to that in the sense that it is really hard to find a politician’s true beliefs. A lot of times you have to look at previous voting history or look at anything that they’ve done things like that. I know, I actually reached out to some of the candidates for the race for the Florida House of Representatives, because I knew that I couldn’t find information. They all said conservative Republican and that can mean a wide variety of things. How are you supposed to pick the best one or the one that best fits your values, if they’re all saying the same thing, and a lot of them tend to say the same hot-topic things. And I know that’s something that a lot of the Republican candidates leaned on is oh, I’m a conservative Republican. I’m pro-gun. I’m pro-life and I am pro-school choice. Those are the three main things that I saw, but that’s more of a ‘what’? As a voter, you look for the ‘how’, as in ‘how are they going to implement those things’? What kind of laws are they going to create in order to get these ideas secured or passed? And then why do you believe this way? Because the truth is, politics wouldn’t exist if both sides didn’t have at least some truth to them. I was an intern for a week at Florida’s Capitol in Tallahassee. And while I was there, I really got to see the senators argue their sides on some of the issues including the abortion ban, and it really opened my eyes because both sides made such valid points, and you could really see how they truly believed what they said. All those things make it difficult for certain elections, like the ones that we had now that if they weren’t incumbent, it’s really difficult to know their beliefs and their lies. And it’s just overall not really accessible to find information about the candidates which is why I emailed or messaged some of them to say hey, I have these questions about specific issues in the area. For example, we deal with a lot of flooding. So I asked them questions about flooding and clear-cutting. And we expect our representatives to truly represent us and our ideas, which means being available and open to communicate with our constituents, with the people that they represent.

So what did the campaign leading up to the elections look like? did you have any public discussions or debates in your local region?

We had a US senator election, a US House election and we had a Florida House election. (editor and governor election) For the larger elections, we would watch videos of debates. Besides Matt Gaetz, and Marco Rubio and Ron DeSantis, the governor, all three of them were incumbents, and all three of them were re-elected to their positions, so a really huge advantage is to already be in office. For them, I suppose there was definitely campaigning done, but oftentimes voting is less about I want to vote for this person because I like them, it’s voting for this person because I don’t want to vote for the other candidate. So it makes it really difficult in those larger elections to really find out what those politicians believe. There are so many other speeches that are scripted ahead of time. Or here’s a really great example, we had the gubernatorial election, and they had a debate on TV. And this was something that kind of parodied the 2020 election debates where the interviewer would ask a question, and neither one of the candidates would actually answer the question that was asked. They would go back to this topic or this hot idea with all the buzzwords, you know, the thing that the constituents want to hear, to try and get people to vote for them. I know it’s so frustrating, and so it makes it just so difficult. And then others just lean really, really heavy on their party. For example, I mentioned that some of them were all Republicans while in one race. This was before the primaries back in August, but there was one candidate, I searched all three candidates. One of them gave me back a really good response explaining the how and the why of why he was running. Another one kind of gave me the standard politician’s answer “Oh, well, I just want things to be better”. But then the third candidate didn’t respond. And I sent a message to her campaign website where they said, you can contact her. Well, I watched her interviews, and something I noticed was before every single question, she would answer “well as a conservative Republican”, and then she would go on to finish the sentence. So it was less about her ideas and more about how much Republican ideology from their platform she would sell.  A lot of times with local elections it has to do with people knowing each other. And we do have some debates. I know that they had debates here, but even though they’re open to the public, they’re not well publicized. So a lot of campaigning was just throwing signs out there. Your candidate’s name, conservative Republican, and a little fish to show that they are Christian. I say, probably 90% of the signs follow that pattern. So it makes it really difficult as a voter to find information because it’s just the same thing for everybody. How do you figure out who to vote for?

How has the war in Ukraine affected you?

Yeah, so definitely, at the beginning of course, and I can only speak from the south here because as I mentioned, the different geographical regions are just so varied. From what I’ve seen in Florida, at the beginning of the war there was definitely a lot of support for Ukraine. Many people had Ukrainian flags up or were posting things online about it constantly. It was always on the news, but as the war is going on, there’s definitely less and less interest by the public.

And I blame the news on that. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of just changing facts or presenting the facts in such a way that seems to support one idea over the other. And so a lot of news today is less here’s what’s going on all over the world, and is more of ‘here’s this hot topic that we’re able to grab’. Right now we’re going to write a lot about it for a week and then everyone’s going to completely forget it happened. I see that all the time with different news stories. So definitely with the war in Ukraine as it’s gone on there’s been less and less talk of it. I know in more politically active circles, it’s still talked about, or I have two friends from Ukraine who live in the States now. And so of course they discuss the war. Having them kind of opens up that conversation. There’s a saying in America, that there are things you should never talk about, which are money, religion, and politics. It’s just causing arguments. So politics, I’d say the more that it falls under politics because people still don’t know whether they want to send troops to Ukraine or whether they just want to send relief, like packages and things like that. I know as someone who is German and my grandmother still lives in Germany, I’ve learned a lot about the war from her just because we live so far across the  Atlantic that it doesn’t really affect us. So it’s kind of jarring to hear my grandmother say “oh, we can’t get gasoline right now” because of the war in Ukraine. That’s just not something we’re experiencing here. And I think that kind of I think it’s the time and the distance that has really dulled people’s interest in knowing more about it.

So how would you describe the state of the media right now? Even though most of the media outlets in the US are publicly owned, do politics still influence the news?

Everything is fueled by money, for sure money is the most important factor in explaining why the media is the way it is right now. Being honest isn’t going to make money. Presenting ideas that are going to appeal to a certain audience is what gets viewership. Controversy gets viewership. A lot of the media tend to be very negative. I’d say most young people get their information from social media, which will have links to articles or things like that, but it’s still social media. And a lot of older people tend to watch TV. There are several big newsgroups, including Fox News, which is a well-known program to be very right-leaning, whereas CNN or CBS, and other TV programs tend to be very left-leaning. And it causes controversy, this is what gets viewership. So in citizen diplomacy, with Gulf Coast Diplomacy, we did an exercise where it was one news story presented by two completely different media outlets. They provided such different perspectives that elicit different emotions from the viewer that a lot of it is based on money. There are a lot of endorsements, and a lot of times politicians will say something beneficial for both the media outlet and the politician that kind of have that partnership in the sense that the politician gets more attention. And their campaign and the media obligate more viewership, which means more commercials, which means more ad revenue. It’s really difficult to find news that isn’t biased or at least has very minimal bias. Just because of how quickly everything changes. And because of that political polarization. So for example, there are certain new sites that present the facts and will give a neutral point of view. It’ll show the left perspective on it. It’ll show the right perspective on it.

What are the current topics that are covered by media outlets? 

So, let’s see what Google has to say is the top news story. A lot of them are all about the elections. Let’s see there’s one about our hurricane, which is a little bit important. This one is about the Supreme Court talking about a case having to deal with Native American tribes. Okay, here’s something interesting. The Supreme Court in the Constitution was I believe the shortest article on the Constitution, Article Three. They are seen less as ruling from the bench, which means creating laws and legislating from the bench, as opposed to being the judges of laws. The concept of judicial review was actually established after the Supreme Court was formed. It’s the idea that the Supreme Court is able to determine whether or not a law is constitutional. They follow precedents as opposed to overturning precedents like Roe v. Wade, past summer. The Supreme Court has definitely taken just in the past year, even such a huge role in politics, that it was unheard of to really talk about the Supreme Court that much but the cases that they have right now, are having such a huge impact on the public and on the state governments that it’s really important to talk about the fact that so many articles are about the supreme court right now.

Are you interested in politics and foreign relations? Do you consider yourself to be not only an American citizen but a global one as well?

It definitely helps me that I am foreign-born and that I hold dual citizenship. I definitely have a deep respect for learning about other cultures and learning about other systems of government because even in school, I feel like the best ideas are the ones that a lot of people come up with together. And so taking ideas that work and putting them together to make the world better as a whole. I definitely have a deep interest in comparative politics and comparative government seeing differences between countries. Overall, I’d say I’m a global citizen in the sense that I already live in such a culturally diverse area, as I mentioned, it’s a very military area. So we get people from all over the country and from all over the world that really gives people in military towns the unique perspective of getting to know people from other cultures and their ideas. 

Has the way information is consumed shifted to social media? Are media outlets out of touch with youth?

I think news outlets have already done a really good job of having a social media presence. There’s a newspaper in my town called the Navarre Press. I follow them on social media. I don’t get the newspaper every week. I get it sometimes. I got it this week because it had an article that I wanted from a production of a play that I saw with people that I know when it, which again, makes it more of a community thing. But having it on social media has really allowed news to get faster instead of waiting for the new newspaper to come out. It also makes it easier to take it in bite-sized headlines, which can actually be really dangerous if students don’t go and look further into the news. I mentioned everything is leaning toward one viewpoint or another whatever and just having a broad headline like that without the true facts and information can make it really difficult for a young person to get accurate, true news and to stay publicly current because everyone thinks that they’re staying politically current. Something I saw just yesterday, as I was watching the news for the midterm results, there was I believe ABC talking about their new mobile app. But something they were talking about was making it customizable, which just seems really questionable to me. It might lead to the point where you’re only seeing one certain viewpoint or that you’re only seeing certain hot topics instead of the world or the country’s position as a whole.

People our age are called Gen Z and told that the future is in our hands. What are you most worried about right now from a global perspective?

In America, I’m really worried about political polarization and the issues of media misinformation, as I mentioned, but in the world as a whole, I’m definitely worried about the global economy based on our consumption of resources. Right now global warming or climate change is a hot topic.  And I feel like climate change is something that affects the entire world. And if we continue using resources at the rate we are now or not swapping to renewable energy, it’s going to be something that causes economic tension, which leads to political tension, which then leads to wars or famines and droughts to situations where resources aren’t being used effectively or there just isn’t enough to go around because of our consumption. So I think that something that Gen Z is going to have to deal with, is climate change.

How will you try to contribute to achieving the solutions to these problems and what are you going to do to make the world a better place in the future?

I’m going to continue pursuing volunteer opportunities starting small. Doing things on a small level eventually affects the bigger things. It’s like gears, you turn that little gear and finally, it starts growing and growing until it’s moving the whole thing. And even though I can’t necessarily see my effort, I can see it sometimes, I can see it locally. I’m doing my part to contribute in ways that I can to the community. I mean, even going back to politics, we have a two-party system, and it takes every vote, every vote matters, every vote counts, and with everyone putting forth an effort to change, everything’s going to stay the same. It’s just kind of that feedback loop of, oh, I want this to change, but it’s going to be a waste if I do this, but if everyone would think that it isn’t a waste, then things would actually start to change. So for me, I know that doing my part to help the world is going to include continuing to learn about other cultures and continuing things like this cultural exchange, to facilitate knowledge and understanding of other people and ideas. As I mentioned, the core qualities are freedom, working hard, and the right to liberty and to vote. I know that there are different core qualities in other places. And so understanding why things are certain ways, is just really important.

What would you ask from a youngster around the world?

Really, I think just knowing the answers to the same questions that you’ve asked me about, what are the issues facing your country, and how can they be improved? What are things that you can do in your community to improve those things? I think just understanding people’s answers get across anything that a single question could ask.

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