Supreme Court news getting you down? Get ready to vote this November.

No more 'meh' this time around.

Democratic voter turnout has been way up this year. Let's put that in a bit of historical context.

The New York Times has a great graphic showing how Democratic primary election turnout has changed between 2014 and 2018. Their analysis found that Democratic turnout is up in at least 123 congressional races. Republicans experienced a similar boost between 2006 and 2010, the year they picked up 63 congressional seats and took control of the House of Representatives.

The news in this last week of June 2018 — packed with controversial Supreme Court decisions and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy — is in many ways the result of Republican enthusiasm in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. While a lot of Democrats are (probably rightly) feeling good about the energy they've seen so far (a trend that held up on June 27), it only matters if people actually show up in November.


Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon at Ocasio-Cortez's victory party. Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images.

Midterm elections might not be as sexy as presidential ones, but they're just as important. Let's look at 2014, for example.

According to the United States Elections Project, just 36.7% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. People simply weren't excited about it or energized enough to get out and vote. Enthusiasm was so low that Pew Research dubbed it the "'meh' midterm." A lot of people sat the election out, and as a result, Republicans picked up nine Senate seats, giving them total control of Congress.

It also gave them the ability to deny Merrick Garland, Obama's 2016 nominee to the Supreme Court, hearings and a vote on his confirmation. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) kept the vacancy open long enough for Trump to take office a year later and install conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Court, where he'll serve likely for the next 30 years or so.

The Supreme Court has been in the news a lot lately, with a lot of decisions coming down to a single justice.

Recently, the Court issued rulings on the legality of Trump's "Muslim Ban," the right for "crisis pregnancy centers" to trick people into thinking they provide services that they don't, and a question about union dues. Those were all 5-4 decisions with Gorsuch joining the conservative majority each time.

Would people have gotten out to vote in the "'meh' midterm" if they knew exactly what kind of long-term consequences awaited? Maybe. That's just the thing, though: When we vote, we're setting in motion a series of events that we can't ever fully understand at the time. There's no way to know how Garland would have ruled in any specific Supreme Court case (though there's reason to believe he would be significantly more moderate than Gorsuch), and there was no way of knowing at the time of the 2014 election that there would be another open seat on the court just two years later.

Just as Republican enthusiasm in 2014 arguably gave us Justice Gorsuch, Democratic energy this year could drive long-term change.

If Democrats can take back control of the Senate, as Republicans did in 2014, they could force Trump to nominate more moderate judges (and fewer paranormal investigators) to lifetime appointments. They'd be able to serve as a much-needed check on his powers — as the first 18 months of his presidency shows Republicans are unlikely to do.

The United States Supreme Court building. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that your vote matters in every election.

Some sit out elections as a way to "send a message," but what message is that exactly? There's no way to differentiate between non-voters who sit out elections because they have issues with one candidate or another and those who are simply apathetic to the political system as a whole. To the people in power, it makes no difference.

The same can probably be said for so-called "protest votes," in which someone casts a ballot for a candidate with no chance of winning, such as a fictional character or themselves.

Apathy can't win, and it's why it's so exciting when candidates with bold ideas like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are getting involved in politics and finding success. For some, like Ocasio-Cortez, the right to create a better world means running for Congress. For others, it means voting for candidates who share our values, marching in the streets, or volunteering for campaigns we believe in.

It's simple: Your vote matters in every election. Not sure if you're registered? Pop on over to usa.gov to check. This is an especially good idea given that there's been a recent uptick in states purging registered voters from their rolls on a variety of technicalities or instituting cumbersome new ID requirements. Both those actions are examples of voter suppression — attempts to disenfranchise voters (and it's important to fight back against those efforts as well). If you're not registered, you can figure out how to do it right on that website (each state has different rules and requirements).

Once you've got that all taken care of, the next step is to tell a friend or two about just how important the 2018 election will be.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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