29 Comments

  1. Posted May 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I first voted in a local issue election when I was 18 or 19. I didn’t care about the issue, but it was my first opportunity and I wanted to vote! I was really angry in the US election of 2000 that I was just barely too young to vote. Now, looking back, I know my one vote in MI wouldn’t change the outcome, but I’m still angry that my age cohort didn’t have a voice in an election that had a big impact on our lives. I would support a law that lowered american voting age to 15.

    My first drink was a hard cider on a trip to London when I was 19. This is a fact that sounds either pretentious or awesome to me now.

  2. Posted May 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I first voted at the age of late 19 and “barely” missed voting a few months before by 18th birthday, but I don’t have a particularly strong feeling about not getting to vote earlier. Gaining the right to vote by becoming a legal adult does not feel off the mark, particularly since minors may get pressure to vote a certain way from their guardians and other adults. Minors also get a partial information blackout for reasons of age-based censorship, and many voters would be paid a disservice to not have various media and information available to them. I think if we were to lower the age of voting, we would have to look at lowering the age where young adults gain certain rights so they have the opportunities to make the right choices rather than forcing them to work in a (partially) sterilized world.

    I’ve never had a “drink” as such and don’t have any plans to. Recreational drugs never interested me, and caffeine and sugar do enough to mess up my body already (which I’m trying to get control of, since I’m disinclined to cut certain things out of my diet entirely).

  3. Posted May 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Drinking: Age 14– I had a Zima backstage at a school play I was doing the make-up for in Albuquerque, NM.

    Voting: I voted absentee in NM from college in New York at age 18.

    I have some sympathy for the argument that a lowered drinking age might help alleviate the problem of young people binge drinking, but I’m not sure, and I don’t think it would have had much effect on me.

    I think it would be absolutely great to lower the voting age to 16. I bet this would have long lasting effects on voter participation. If high school teachers could get their students registered and encourage them to vote, you could get a lot more people started on a lifetime habit of voting.

  4. Posted May 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I first took a drink around sixteen or so. I lived in Birmingham, Alabama, but a friend of mine was a couple years older. He went to school at the University of Alabama, which is in the city of Tuscaloosa, 45 minutes drive away. Though he was a freshman at the time, an older friend of his was 21, and purchased for us anything we requested, provided we had the cash. I remember waiting eagerly, the car parked outside a liquor store.

    I had no idea what was worth drinking or not drinking, so I asked for a bottle of vodka. During the course of that night, I drank to a special kind of excess. It’s the excess of someone who has no clue what their limits are. Alcohol poisoning was to follow, plus three days spent flat on my back with a horrible hangover.

    I would have benefited not necessary from a lowered age, but from education to instruct me about how one drinks responsibly and not out of ignorance.

    I voted at 18, and I am sad to say that few of my classmates were as excited about it as I was. When in high school, I always felt like the sore thumb that stuck out, because civic involvement and activism both were in short supply where I grew up. It just wasn’t a priority for them. They were more interested in the largely superficial social games that are common in high school. But as for me, the race for Alabama governor was that year, and I obtained the voter registration form, filled it out, then sent the form off in the mail all while at the closest campaign office for the Democratic candidate, who eventually won.

    I don’t really draw a correlation between age where one can legally consume alcohol and greater involvement in politics. It requires mostly a culture where such behavior is encouraged and championed. In time, my classmates began to care about politics, but it often took them growing up, sometimes having children, but often holding down jobs and having to at least take on the guise of responsibility.

  5. Posted May 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    First drink, some party in 8th grade (coincidentally, right after I moved to Germany).
    First vote, never, due to various address/registration/absentee ballot fuck ups, as well as moving around so often that I don’t feel invested in local or state elections (currently on my 4th address in 2 years, each one in a different state).

    I do think the voting age should be lowered though. I always thought of teenagers as dumb and self-involved until I started working for an organization that really recognizes and codifies the value of their input and works to end adultism, which they say is the only form of social discrimination that has gone unexamined and sanctioned by our society. To the extent that teenagers are dumb and self-involved, it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy because we give them so few opportunities to provide genuine input and they are belittled constantly. I definitely think they should be able to play more of a role in shaping the society that they’ll be living in for the next 60+ years.

  6. Posted May 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    My first drink was when I was eighteen and celebrating my one-year anniversary with my then-boyfriend. I started to get a little drunk, didn’t like the feeling, and stopped. The first time I got drunk was when I was 21, but that was a while after my 21st birthday and with friends I trusted. I still don’t really like being drunk. It’s not something I choose to do for fun. So I guess lowering the drinking age would make no difference at all to me. I could definitely see how lowering the drinking age would take away the mystery of alcohol to young people, and thus they would be less inclined to indulge in dangerous activities like binge drinking to be “cool.”

    I turned eighteen right before the 2008 election, which was excellent timing. I got to vote for our first black president! I guess the main argument for lowering the voting age would be that many under-aged people haven’t learned enough about the issues or haven’t established their opinions yet–but I figure those who have will vote, and those who haven’t won’t. And hopefully nobody will get corrupted by greedy parents and used as a way for them to get an free extra vote.

  7. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I voted in the 2004 general election at the age of 18 1/2. I was so proud and so excited! I am happy to say that I voted in a member of Congress who gave me my first internship 3 years later and officiated my wedding 5 years later.

    My first drink was 16 or 17. I never went to parties but when parents were out of town, my girlfriends and I would attack a handle of SoCo or Peach Schnapps.

  8. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    My first drink was…I don’t remember. I remember drinking sips of alchohol with my siblings and cousins when I was little and not seeing the appeal (booze tastes awful and makes you feel pukey). The joys of two neglectful parents, one of which is an alchoholic. In a ironic twist, I have never legally drank, even though I am 22 now.

    As to voting, I was nineteen (there was no election when I was eighteen). I voted by absentee ballot and put Cynthia McKinney as my presidential vote and wrote in protest votes for local one candidate races. I suppose I am more jaded now, and I sat out the midterms because there was no candidate running that I could stomach to vote for (only one position on the ballot actually had more than one candidate…). Having the same corrupt Representative and his dad as the only person on the ballot most of your life breeds cynicism quite well. The asinine two party system is de facto a one party system in many areas.

  9. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    My first vote was for Obama in the ’08 primaries, It was my second year away at college and I voted then and in the presidential election by absentee ballot. I’ve only voted in one local election since then.

    My first drink; I was very young. I can’t remember exactly when and which was my first experience. When I was in middle school I was at a friend’s house after school with my small group of best friends at the time. We snuck 2 bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade out of the pantry and split them between ourselves. I think, not too long after that my younger brother and I found a warm bottle of Mike’s out in some woods and drank it. My brother is 3 years younger than me and may have only just been in middle school so this shows what a role model I have been to him, (I think I tried to convince him to try smoking when I was 15-16 and I am so glad he didn’t listen to how stupid I was.) I had some ‘troubles’ around this time with the group of friends I was in but I don’t think I ever got myself drunk until I got to college.
    I know there is a lot of debate around whether is is better to introduce drinking to children and teens at an early age in a family situation to help teach moderation and healthy/smart drinking habits. This was how my boyfriend who is English was brought up and he has a very healthy approach to drinking. We’ve gone out on the piss during our Uni years here on the British south coast and had some embarrassing nights and hangovers during the last 4 years but we are more generally the kind of people who prefer to have a nice cool beer/g&t on a warm day in the garden or a glass of wine with dinner than get recklessly drunk.
    I would put that down to our upbringings. At a certain point in high school my mother started letting me have drinks at special occasions and holidays and summer dinners. She had the same approach with my younger brother. She knew we had probably experimented with drinking/pot and was okay with us having a drink in her company but she likely hadn’t wanted to be the one to introduce it to us.I remember her imparting some words of wisdom to my brother when he last for his first year at college this past fall and saying, ‘If you’re going to a party with drinking, make sure it is not on campus and you don’t get caught.’ I’m sure she knew that he might have a night where he got a little out of hand but she trusted him enough not to make a very bad mistake, get in a car with some one who was drunk, get alcohol poisoning.
    I’ve had some bad times with drink but I’m lucky to have never gotten hurt/hurt anyone else while drinking and that while my first drink was at a very young age; my first hangover wasn’t until 19.

  10. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I registered to vote as soon as I turned 18, a month before I graduated from high school. There was a program in the school where school employee volunteers would sit at tables with forms for students to register to vote. I remember there was a great deal of outrage at the fact that some young black men, when they tried to register at one of those tables, were told that, if they’d ever been charged with any crime, they weren’t allowed to vote. Of course this was patently deceitful, horribly racist, and also a bit difficult to believe in a school as diverse as ours. (As I recall, the employee who told them that was fired.) I voted for the first time in the next election, 2006, which was a gubernatorial election in Maryland. A neighbor of mine–a really awesome woman who teaches yoga and makes kickin’ baba ganoush–was one of the volunteers at the polling place. She gave me a big hug and said, “I’m so proud of you!”

    The first time I drank was during winter break of 2010, a few months before I turned 22. I hadn’t really tried drinking before then because I’m on a mood stabilizer (for bipolar type II) which warns you in the list of side effects that combining it with alcohol carries a slight risk of seizures, and also because I hadn’t met an alcoholic beverage that was tasty. A best friend of mine introduced me to gin and tonic with lime when I spent the night at her apartment, and I was instantly smitten–it was delicious. I paid very close attention to my symptoms as I slowly drank a gin and tonic, and we had a plan of action in case I started seizing. I did not start seizing. When I got back to my parents’ house the next day, I found out that gin and tonic is my dad’s favorite drink but he never drinks them “because they go down soooo easy.” My mom told me, “You can’t afford to drink.” I paused for a second and then said, “Wait, you mean…monetarily?” “Yes!” she said, “it’s an expensive habit to get into!”

    I just found out that my state now has a law that allows teenagers to register to vote when they turn 16, but of course the legal voting age is still 18. I think we should lower the voting age to 16 on the condition that we have civics classes again, kind of like the ones my parents had when they were in high school. So many people, especially young people, just don’t seem to care about voting–partly because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to form their own political identity. Give them a chance to do that, I say, then give them a chance to vote.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the drinking age. On the one hand, I feel like it’s stupid to treat young people (who are legally adults at 18) like alcohol is the devil’s drink and they can’t have ANY of it or they’ll DIE. (Have you *seen* the kinds of graphic videos they subject you to in Drivers’ Ed in Maryland?!) On the other hand, young people are already drinking, but because it’s illegal for them to drink, they don’t know how to drink responsibly and that’s how they end up getting killed. Maybe we should have some kind of graduated system, like with driving: First you learn all about alcohol (we can make it fun, like an episode of “How It’s Made”!). Then you’re allowed to drink beer and wine, and then you can move on to the hard stuff.

  11. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    My parents had a very relaxed, sensible approach to alcohol consumption. My sister and I were allowed small tastes of beer and wine as kids–a sip here and there–and were allowed a drink of our own on special occasions as teenagers, when our parents were around and giving it to us themselves. I feel it’s ridiculous to say that at 18, someone is old enough to vote, old enough to marry without parental permission, old enough to fight in the armed forces without parental permission, but not old enough to legally buy a drink. Lowering the drinking age to 18 would be smart, in my opinion, and perhaps making it 16 with parental supervision would keep kids from going nuts and binging on the fermented forbidden fruit when they leave home for college.

    I didn’t actually vote until 2002, though I was eligible in 1998. I suppose I didn’t much care about any elections other than the presidential election until I settled into a home state. I missed the 2000 presidential election because I procrastinated on finding out how to get an absentee ballot while I was at college, until it was too late. I think that 18 is a fine age for voting in general, but I believe anyone who enlists in the armed forces at 17 (which can be done with parental consent) should be allowed to vote after enlisting. Anyone fighting for their country should have the ability to vote for who leads their country.

  12. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    My first vote was in a primary for a local election the summer after I turned 18. My mom and I went and it was a pretty boring experience – because it was a local primary, not many people knew or cared about it. Also, my second vote was for Obama – I voted absentee because I was away in college and guess what? Somehow my vote got rejected. So that sucked.

    My first drink was when I was 13. I also started drinking a lot more when I studied abroad in France (because I was legal there) even though when I returned to the US I was still under 21.

    I think both voting and drinking could use a lowering of age. With voting, I have been politically active since I was a kid and probably more knowledgeable about politics than most long before I could vote. My first experience voting taught me this: I think there was less than 10% of registered voters who voted in that election and I knew several of my under-18 friends who would have. Why not let 16-year-olds vote? They know as much about politics as 18-year-olds.

    As far as drinking, living in France showed me that not having a stigma on drinking means (guess what?!) people drink more responsibly. People in France talk about drinking more than we do, and they do it better. Part of the appeal of drinking in college is that it’s illegal to do so until you turn the big 21 – take away that appeal and plenty of people will still drink, but they’ll be more responsible about it.

    On a side note, a researcher at my university conducted an informal poll of students on their use of SafeRide, an anonymous, free taxi service for students who have been drinking at parties. All you do is call the number and someone will pick you up so you don’t have to drive. It’s a great program, but a lot of students don’t use it and the administration wanted to know what they could do to get the number of users to go up. The biggest reason students didn’t use the service? They were under 21 and were afraid of being reported. If the drinking age was something more like 18, people wouldn’t be afraid to call a free taxi service so they won’t drive drunk – I’d say that’s a plus. (On an extra side note, crimes like rape are less likely to be reported for victims who have been drinking but are under 21 – lowering the drinking age can help these statistics as well.)

  13. Posted May 25, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi! This is my first Wednesday Weigh in so I’m quite excited!

    I am from Australia so things area bit different. I’m terms of voting, it is compulsory to vote in Australia and you get fined if you don’t however it’s not compulsory to register to vote. I have several friends who never registered to vote and claim they never will. For me, some government peoples came around to my high school and got us all to sign up (turns out the school was paid a couple of dollars for every student that enrolled to vote). I was 16 at the time so you can imagine my surprise on my 18th birthday when I received a letter saying I was now an official voter! I voted in the next electional and although I’m not very optimistic about voting and the Australian political system I know the women who came before me had to fight for the right to vote so I don’t want to dishonour their memory.

    I use to drink underage all the time, it’s a pretty big part of Australian culture. Binge drinking amongst teenagers is a big problem. However I don’t think raising (to 21) or lowering (to 16) is going to have any positive effect. It’s a deeply social and cultural issue.

  14. Posted May 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    The first time I voted was when I was around 20, the first election after my 18th birthday. Since we have had plenty of federal elections in Canada in the last several years, I have had the chance to vote many times already. All my votes have been wasted, because, as a progressive in a very conservative area my vote counts for nothing.

    I don’t remember how old I was the first time I had a drink, but the first time I got drunk was when I was 13. It was an incredibly fun experience. Drinking became less fun after I turned 18 (thats the legal drinking age where I am) and it was legal. I think the drinking age should be lowered and that experimenting with alcohol should be more accepted. Kids are going to do it, but if you can have it more out in the open it can be made safer.

  15. Posted May 25, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I have to say, this is becoming one of my favorite weekly things :) .

    My first vote was in the 2008 election. I was working for the DFL in Minnesota and I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t vote since I was urging everyone else to do so. It was a really exciting experience and regardless of my opinions now, I’m pleased that almost everyone I voted for won.

    I had my first drink about a week after my 21st birthday. My birthday was on Easter that year, definitely not the night to go out and drink. Plus having a Mormon family doesn’t exactly help matters, haha.

  16. Posted May 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    My first drink: probably around 15 or so. Mom always had a box of pink Franzia in the fridge. I used to steal Virgina Slims menthol cigarettes from her too (when I was 13)! Neither of us smoke anymore, thankfully, but we both still like the box wine!

    I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t vote for the first time until I was 30! I had to do my best to make sure Bush wasn’t elected for a second term. I was so sad when he won again. I couldn’t watch the news for a long time. It made me too angry. I still have to cover my ears and go “la-la-la-la” anytime I hear his voice.

  17. Posted May 25, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I have not voted yet because I am still underage :( But I think that the voting age of 18 is appropriate.

    I can’t remember when I first tasted alcohol, my parents would let me have a sip of their beer or wine from around age ten or so. My first full glass of wine was at a family dinner. My family is very realistic about drinking and while I’m not legally allowed to drink, if I’m at home I can have wine with dinner. This attitude is beneficial because I am not goiong to drink myself silly when I turn 21 and am legal to drink. Alcohol is a drug, but now I have respect for it and will not underestimate its effects.

  18. Posted May 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Voting: I first voted when I was 18 in a very local-level primary. It was actually a pretty embarassing experience, and one I look back on with regret. I went to the polling place near my house with my father, who is (unfortunately) a Tea Party minded Republican. When we got there to pick up ballots, the woman running polling asked us, out loud, “Republican or Democrat ballot?” My father, of course, loudly proclaimed, “Republican,” then looked at me expectantly. I was still sorting out my own political views and wanted to vote in the Democratic primaries. But with my father standing right there, I felt like I had to vote on the Republican run or risk a fight at home. I voted on the Republican one, not recognizing a single name on the ballot. I’m now ashamed to say I voted for a guy named Oberweiss because his family owned a local ice cream shop chain. So in that regard, no, I don’t think being any younger would have helped. I didn’t even know what I was doing at 18.

    Drinking: I was 19 when I had my first drink. I was just hanging out with some college friends, and I shared a yummy tropical thing with a friend. It was actually a very neutral experience despite the fact that I was underage. It just wasn’t a big deal. I do think I was mature enough at that age to be drinking, and 21 seems like a silly, arbitrary number. I still think it should be 18.

  19. Posted May 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I am 24 years old and I am not registered to vote. Voting is a right, and I can choose not to exercise it – just like it is my right to own a gun, but I do not own a gun. I live in states that predominantly swing Democrat, which is how I would end up voting so I could get a president who I more or less agree with while at the same time not worrying about splitting the vote and allowing a president I do *not* agree with. I currently live in a district that also tends to swing Democrat, so once again, by not voting I am disturbing nothing. Maybe this will change if I ever live in a state/district that swings Republican, or if I decide I want to become active in some political group, and being registered to vote is a requirement.

    That being said, I think that the voting age should be set at whatever age it would be legally possible for a person to live on their own without a guardian. The first age where it is possible for a person to live, work, pay taxes, etc on their own, that is the age they should be eligible to vote.

    The first time I drank alcohol, I believe I was 7 or 8 years old. I tasted some champagne that my parents were drinking at a wedding, and thought it was pretty gross. A couple of years later I think my dad offered me a sip of his beer because I was curious what it tasted like – again, gross. When I was 20 and in college I drank “for real” – by which I mean I finished at least one alcoholic drink (in fact I finished several, and got properly drunk). I would not have been interested in drinking at a younger age, because my friends all had similar experiences as I did – we’d tasted alcohol before, and were largely not interested, until we finally tasted something we enjoyed. That point, for us, was all somewhere between 20 and 22 years old.

    My stance on the drinking age is basically the same as my stance on the voting age. If you are at an age where you are legally allowed to take care of yourself without a guardian, you should be treated as an adult. That means also being allowed to drink.

  20. Posted May 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I voted as soon as I was able to. When the first election hit during my 18th year I hit the poles. I have voted during every election ever since. However, I don’t know how socially responsible I was being because none of my votes during this time were either informed or personal to me. I merely voted the way my parents voted.
    I took my first drink the first chance I got. At age 15 I went to my first party where alcohol was present. I drank until I blacked out. That event marked my first experience with alcohol and it also chronicled the first of many blackouts I would experience in my life.
    My 25th year marked my first informed decision and the start of sober living. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the same year I made the decision to stop drinking I also made the decision to make an informed decision when voting. At age 25 I surrendered to the fact that I am in fact an “alcoholic” and by identifying myself as such I had to come the conclusion that I needed help to stop drinking. I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous where I learned how to live life as a socially responsible adult. Before that alcohol had ruled my life. Now I am driven to know more about the society in which we live so that I can contribute to the best of my ability, which includes making an informed decision in voting.

  21. Posted May 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    My first vote happened this month, when Canada had their federal election (with one of the most heartbreaking results)

    My first drink was when I was 14, and I hated it. I began drinking when I was 16/17, it was still very rarely, but every time I usually would get drunk. This year I entered university and I’ve had a very typical university year full of binge drinking. I personally enjoy drinking but I don’t do it to a point where I think it’s hazardous to my health like many of my fellow students. I’m fine with the drinking age, it’s 19 where I am. It really makes no difference if they lower it by a couple of years or not, I think youth will drink no matter what so they might as well keep it at 19 (or 18 where thats the age for a couple provinces). I think the US drinking age is a bit extreme though, and should be lowered.

    I think the voting age should be lowered for sure. I was fully aware of my political position and knew probably as much as any “adult” would, if not more when I was 15. So many political issues affect youth, and it’s frustrating how they don’t have the truest form of political expression. I think it also adds to the voter apathy in youth as they get into young adulthood. If they pushed to believe their input is not important, that impression remains with them after they turn of age. The youngest age group eligible to vote has the worst turnout, which is a pity since they are the group that has the highest chance to change the whole result of the election. It dominos since that platforms are fixed to entice voters so many parties gear their efforts and promises to things that are not relevant to youth, but instead to groups are guaranteed to show up to the polls.

  22. Posted May 25, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I used to be heavily involved in youth activism, and I advocated for the lowering of the voting age to 16 from 18. Of course, that went nowhere, but it’s still something I firmly believe in. If you’re going to trust me to drive on the roads I share with you, you should trust me to vote! I have voted in every election I’ve been eligible to since I’ve been of voting age. :)

    A lot of my friends were pretty heavy drinkers in high school and even though I didn’t disagree with drinking, I didn’t want to participate in their scene. The first time I drank was at my prom after-party — my parents were definitely against me drinking underage, but they let me go to the after-party anyway. My best friend’s mom bought me a box of Smirnoff green apple coolers and when I went to pay her back for them she refused, saying, “No way–you need to get a life!” (It was kind of funny rather than offensive, given the context.) I had two and a half of the coolers and a bag of pretzels to keep me from being too tipsy, and I wasn’t hung over the next day. I didn’t drink again for a very long time–not because it was a bad experience, which it wasn’t, but because I didn’t care. In the fall of that year, I moved to a place bordering Quebec, where the drinking age is 18 instead of 19, so I had the opportunity to drink legally. I didn’t take advantage of that many times, though. I went to the States a year ago and was just of age, and it was so weird to get ID’d again!

  23. Posted May 25, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I think I will always remember my first time voting.
    I skipped a grade, so while everyone on my freshman dorm floor was buzzing with excitement to vote (mostly) for the first black president, I missed the presidential election by 2 months and spent the entire day explaining to curious professors why I didn’t raise my hand when they asked, “Who voted today?”.
    So a little bit of the excitement wore off when I did turn 18. I think I was already 19 before I actually got around to registering, and then I took too long to send in my absentee ballot request to vote in the midterms.
    SO I ended up driving 2 hours home to vote for Barbara Boxer because I couldn’t stand the idea of actually missing my first opportunity to vote.

    While I think there are certainly high school kids who don’t know nearly enough about anything to vote, there are also fully grown adults who don’t either. I think lowering the voting age to 16 would be a great idea and would give kids the opportunity they need to become educated about voting in school and would make it easier to register (instead of having to go figure it out for yourself, especially if you aren’t on a college campus during an election season). I think everyone would benefit from the opinions of young people.

    On the subject of drinking, I just returned a few weeks ago from a semester abroad in Berlin, and am also fully in favor of lowering the drinking age to at least 18. In my time in Europe, I met a lot of awesome young people with very level-headed views on drinking. If you look at the way things shake out in countries that already have lower drinking ages, it’s pretty hard to argue against it. While the cultural differences between the US and Europe also account for some of the more positive attitudes towards drinking abroad, I think a lot of it also has to do with being able to drink for the first time with parents.
    In the US, college kids are suddenly able to drink in bars and buy alcohol in stores right when they’re feeling the effects of utter freedom from parental influence and I think this is a huge factor in the epidemic of binge drinking at American colleges. Things won’t change overnight, obviously, but like voting, I think having drinking education take place earlier/in high school can go a long way help kids grow into informed adults more than just telling them to stay safe and then forcing drinking to take place underground/unsupervised.

  24. Posted May 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t vote until I was 19 (after problems sorting out an absentee ballot at 18). I was frustrated at being too young to vote in high school and my first year of college. I was, through chance and family training, rather well prepared to vote, yet even my most blinkered, clueless elders could make decisions that would affect the rest of my life without a say from me.

    However, I don’t know that we should lower the voting age per se – 18 is not an unreasonable age for basic legal majority. What if we kept 18 as the age at which we say “ready or not, you’re responsible for yourself now,” but increase the ways in which younger people who _are_ ready, can acquire individual rights earlier.

    For example, we could automatically grant the vote to the over-18s, but have a test (eg of basic civis and ability to comprehend ballot text) that people could take to start voting younger. Not that reading comprehension and naming the branches of government are the guarantee of a sophisticated voter, but taking the test (which would have to be a) free and b) taken outside of school and c) non-compulsory) filters for people who care and are at least as qualified as many of their adults neighbors. An alternative might be to start small, eg – letting high school or even middle school students vote in the regular school board elections, graduating later to local elections and then on majority to state/national elections.

    As for alcohol – I can’t say that the legal age had much effect other than as a nuisance for me or on my friends. The ones who wanted alcohol got hold of it in whatever quantity they required. The big determinant of whether kids got plotzed was their family and social context.

    My family was of the old school, where we had occasional sips or even small glasses of weak wine or beer from toddlerdom and graduated by increments until our mid-teens, when we could have a glass of wine or beer with dinner a matter of course, our bit of the rompope at Christmas, etc. So I don’t know when my “first drink” was exactly. Alcohol was something we drank (and drink) like our parents – in modest quantities for flavor. Neither we nor our cousins and friends raised on the same plan had much interest in drunkenness. I first bought my own drink at fifteen – in Germany where beer was legal and cheaper than soda. I got giggly on wedding champagne at ten, and I once tried getting drunk deliberately at 17 – when I confirmed that it wasn’t my thing.

    Friends whose parents got drunk regularly and kids from teatotal/alcohol binary families were much more likely to focus on the alcohol part and much more likely to think that being drunk was inherently “fun”/”cool”/appealing. However those same kids were often from environments where being drunk was deemed a valid excuse for violating social norms/doing stupid stuff and a reasonable tool for “coping” with other problems.

    The downsides of alcohol just aren’t that susceptible to legislative fixes. Putting the drinking age at 21 is pointless or even counter productive. Better to have kids supervised than hiding in the train yard to get plotzed. Along as people get the idea that the purpose of alcohol is to get drunk, that getting drunk is a symbol and privilege of adulthood, that getting help for alcohol abuse is shameful, and that the things you do while drunk “don’t really count” … you have a mess.

    Which boils down to another proponent of graduated emancipation generally.

  25. Posted May 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m from MI. My first drink was about a month before I turned 21 at an intimate party for a friend’s 21st birthday. One drink, nothing more until my own 21st b-day when I got to order a grasshopper at a restaurant. I’ve never particularly cared for alcoholic drinks, so I don’t have much of an opinion on lowering the drinking age.

    Voting age is another matter. I grew up under the “care” of horribly abusive, religious fanatic parents. They most certainly never had my best interests at heart…just the opposite. They were extremely conservative, and I adopted their positions publicly as a sort of self-protection mechanism, though I held very different views privately . Politics were always a huge topic in my home, and American Gov’t and history are still two of my passions.

    I always felt that being subject to the law without a say in it was an egregious breach of my rights as a US citizen. My parent’s votes never took into account my positions, or what was best for me- thus I had absolutely no representation, even vicariously. I couldn’t wait until I turned 18, in part because I could vote privately in a booth and counter-act some of the harm I felt my parents were doing.

    There are other reasons I think the age requirement should be lowered. Citizens can work and pay taxes long before they can vote. Charged with a heinous crime, minors can be tried and sentenced as adults without ever having enjoyed the privileges of adulthood. And, most importantly, not being able to vote means you have zero political power. ZERO. There is no consequence to politically ignoring someone who cannot vote or run for office. Policies that affect children are always framed around their parents. Minors are robbed of their voice by a system that treats them as an “issue” instead of as valuable individuals.

    Education is a perfect example. Someone always says “put the children first, think of the children.” But nobody ever asks the children to contribute to the conversation in any meaningful way. As if a 17 yr old high school senior has no vested interest in policies that affect, say, college tuition rates.

    Needless to say, I have voted in every election since I was 18. Primaries, Presidential, School Board. Everything! And if a proposal was ever put forward to lower the voting age in MI, I would most definitely vote “yes.”

  26. Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I first voted this fall, for all that I could have the year before (try not to judge me too harshly). This year was really empowering, though, because I was working on a gay rights campaign since July and it was so exciting to help successfully pass nondiscrimination legislation in my community. It made sense for me to begin voting this year, I think, because that’s when I began to really learn about politics in a self-motivated way.

    That said, I was only a month too young to vote in the presidential election in 2008, and I think I had been paying enough attention to participate in that legitimately. So, it’s a toss up.

    The first time I drank was when I had an internship on an organic farm in Virginia, right after I finished high school. My friend very carefully gave me a list of tips for drinking responsibly, and I’ve yet to get myself all that terribly drunk. Given I wasn’t 18 yet for the 2008 election, I still am not 21 (shh, don’t tell anyone I do illegal things ;) ). Even so, I don’t have very strong feelings about being allowed to drink. I suppose, for me personally, I find it annoying not to be able to purchase alcohol, but it’s so available living in a college town that I sometimes have just sort of sat back and marveled at how long it was until I would be of a legal age to drink and how irrelevant it was.

    So the main reason why I would lower the drinking age is that younger people are obviously drinking. Instead of really trying to decide whether enough people my age are truly responsible enough to drink (I’m dating a grad student and I’m particularly aware these days that they think of us as children), I’m gonna go with, if you can’t enforce a law, it probably shouldn’t exist. There are too many people drinking underage to punish all of them. If nothing else, the status quo is dreadfully inefficient.

  27. Posted May 26, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    First drink: I was 15. We’d moved to Central America, and everything changed. My parents would have lavish parties with important people. They would dress me up and trot me out to these, and act all proud of me. Sometimes the old men would creep me out. At one of these, I got thirsty so went to the bartender for a Coke. Out of nowhere, I ordered a Cuba Libre (rum & coke). That was the only alcoholic drink I knew the name of…he hesitated, then gave me one.

    About halfway through the drink, I had a revelation! “THIS is what they’ve been hiding from me!” I felt relaxed, confident, warm, witty, charming… and pretty! This was their secret – how they did it, laughed at the stupid jokes, made small talk, stayed relaxed in a room full of people. It was like a miracle. I knew right then in that instant that this was for me. I don’t guess most people react that way! I never really looked back. I was off to the races…I’d found the cure to all the ills of my world.

    It’s probably pretty clear that I am an alcoholic. I don’t think most normal people react that way to their first drink. Booze would become much less glamorous. It took me countless years of misery to admit it and seek help. I am happy that I now have many years of being a recovered alcoholic.

    Where I lived, there was no drinking age. We went crazy. Since you’re asking, I think there should be a drinking age – too many kids are overdosing on alcohol. They binge more than we did. 21 is fine with me, but I don’t think that kids should serve in the military until that age, either. It’s hypocritical to tell them they can fight and die, but not drink a beer.

    I was exposed to 3rd world poverty, so I had some political awareness, but really I was too busy having fun to care much about it. I vaguely remember that Nixon resigned, but I was in Costa Rica surfing and sailing at the time and just briefly thought, “Well, that’s interesting, wonder what’s going on up there?”

    I didn’t vote until I was 25, for Jimmy Carter’s 2nd run for the presidency. I was about to become a mother, and I think that made me take the future of the country more seriously. I became more aware during Ford’s years, and was horrified by Reagan. Now that I’m older, I’m much more involved. I volunteer, make phone calls both from candidate phone banks and from home, go to rallies, etc. for the Democrats, made calls for the NAACP last elections. People really listen when you say you’re calling for the NAACP to urge them to get out and vote. I also notice that there are quite a few of us “old ladies” who show up to volunteer for candidates!

    I write an occasional letter to the editor. I’ve attended things like the local version of the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity, and a Save the Whales protest outside the Japanese Embassy here in Denver. And forever signing petitions and blogging.

  28. Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    The first time I voted was in the 2004 Presidential election. I was 21, legal to drink in this country. I had missed the cut off for the 2000 Presidential election or I would have voted in that one as well. That was the year of “Vote or Die” and I had the T shirts and the stickers and it was all over my dorm room and my MySpace page – *cringe* and I was dead serious about my love for John Edwards – *more cringe*.

    But I will say that I didn’t really appreciate what I was doing. It’s an awful thing to admit, but I was only doing it because it was something my dad said I should be doing.
    And Diddy was on MTV saying “Vote or Die”. And that’s a catchy slogan, you know? So I was being trendy more than I was being political. At 21, I was walking to the Planned Parenthood a few blocks from campus and drinking (legally finally) and not fighting in a war (thank God), and my father was still alive and I didn’t have to work or pay any real bills or pay for school or deal with real life. I didn’t care about anything. I was 21!! Katrina hadn’t devastated my favorite city yet, I thought I had a career path down, etc etc.
    So can I really count that election? Does it matter that I didn’t like Bush? I mean there were good reasons for me not to, but did I understand them?

    I had my first alcoholic drink in the 90s. I don’t feel like doing the math but it was the summer I was 15. My high school language program takes trips to different countries and it was the French class’ turn so it was a group of 20 giggling Catholic school girls running around France, Monaco and Italy, loosely supervised by 2 teachers, one of whom was French herself and went to go see her niece. Lol. So of course we took every chance we could to run off and play at being “sophisticated”. We ordered wine in cafes and smoked cigarettes and went to the night clubs and generally enjoyed ourselves without overdoing it, to be honest, which is something that American teenagers (if you watch Skins lol) don’t do.

    Would I have benefited from a lowered legal age to do both?
    YES.
    Being able to vote at say….16 while I was still in high school and learning about civics would have helped me put into practice these concepts I was being taught. Those mock elections were silly and did no good. In a country where we cherish the ability to vote, I think giving that right to younger voters would help them appreciate it more as well as maybe give them a reason to get involved earlier. Maybe they’ll take more pride in their country and the process.

    And really, I’m bored with drinking at 27. How much more bored would I be with it if I could have been doing it at 16? Alcohol can be dangerous. Let it be something that parents have a chance to train their kids to deal with, like the potty. Lol. Maybe not like the potty, but you get my drift.
    Or maybe I’m just a lush and want everyone to be in my club. Who knows?

  29. Posted May 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    My first experience voting was in the Iowa democratic caucus in 2004. I was only 17 at the time, because the caucus was held in January and my birthday is in February, but Iowa allows residents to participate in the caucus if they will be of legal voting age at the time of the general election. So, technically, I have already benefited from a lowered voting age, of sorts.

    I went to the polling place (a local elementary school) with my brother and both of my parents. There were maybe 80 people there, and we all congregated in the cafeteria. Each candidate was assigned a table, and you sat at the table for the candidate you supported. My parents and I went to the Kerry table (in retrospect, not the best choice we’ve ever made), and my brother sat at the Kucinich table. Once everyone had settled, the folks in charge did a little bit of math and determined that each candidate needed at least 16 people to get a delegate, so anyone seated at a table with fewer than 16 got to get up and try again. Unsurprisingly, Kucinich didn’t qualify, and despite my father’s quasi-joking comment “I pay for your house and food!”, my brother walked past the Kerry table and sat down with the Edwards supporters. I also remember being struck by the fact that, even though the outside of the polling place was covered in Gephardt signs, and he seemed like a formidable candidate, only one person attempted to caucus for him.

    All in all, caucusing was a rather strange introduction to the voting process. As a child, I viewed voting as a very structured, dignified, and grown-up process. But caucusing felt a lot more like an exercise one might do in a middle school civics class. Obviously, the secret ballot does not exist in this system, and the physical process of walking across the room to signify your support, and the strange scramble of figuring out where to go if your first choice fails makes the whole thing feel kind of silly. But at the same time, there was definitely something quintessentially Iowan about it. It was casual, friendly, and intimate in a way that made the voting process seem relevant in the context of a small-scale community. This type of process would have been impossible with more people, and would have been much less pleasant in less Midwestern atmosphere. When people were released to select new candidates, it was a process of neighbors having friendly, rational, polite conversations with one another in order to help inform their choices. It was not at all aggressive, and no one was trying to push or bully anyone into choosing a specific candidate. So, even though it was a rather unorthodox introduction to voting, I think it was a very positive experience and I’m very glad I did it.

    I think 16 is not an unreasonable age for voting, though I think I would prefer 17, mostly because I think most people, at 16, aren’t particularly invested in and informed about politics, and would likely just vote for their parents’ interests. However, I had several friends in high school who were driven nuts by the fact that they were 17 in 2004 and had to sit back an watch the country re-elect Bush.

    As for drinking…the first time I ever got drunk, I was 19 years old. It was the second semester of my first year in college, and my high school boyfriend and I had just gone on a break. Crushed that I was on the outs with my ‘true love’, I drowned my sorrows in orange flavored Smirnoff Twisted IV, which is roughly equivalent to orange soda spiked with a thimbleful of vodka. This occurred in a friend’s dorm, which had poorly seated toilets that rocked a bit when you sat on them. Because I was unfamiliar with the building, every time I went to the bathroom, I thought to myself, “Is there something wrong with this toilet, or is this just what it’s like to be drunk?”

    I went to a small liberal arts college with a profoundly lenient alcohol policy. Instead of having RAs, we had Student Advisors, who weren’t paid and therefore were not obligated to narc on anyone. As such, the drinking age didn’t have much of an impact on my life. It just meant that I had to ask a friend to buy for me until junior year if I wanted my own booze. But since we had weekly dance parties with free beer and a very poorly enforced wrist-banding policy, that was pretty infrequent. Still, I think it makes more sense for the drinking age to be 18, simply because nearly everyone drinks in college, and it doesn’t make a whole of sense to arbitrarily declare that you’re not allowed to do it until you’re halfway through.

    Personally, I’m glad that I didn’t drink in high school. I think it helped me establish my identity and my friend group in a positive way, and to make healthy choices for myself. It meant that I was a relatively independent adult by the time I started actually drinking, and I was on a small campus where there was no possibility that anyone would have to drive while intoxicated, so my early drinking experiences were relatively safe. I also think that the lenient drinking culture of my college was helpful in that, if someone underage was drinking, they didn’t feel the need to hide it for fear of being in trouble, which meant that they wouldn’t refuse medical attention if there was a risk of alcohol poisoning.

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