For the last decade or so, the United States has been undergoing intense political debate and turmoil unlike anything I’ve seen since the 1960s. Protests and counter protests are being mounted at a fever pitch.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, last month we saw the ugliness of two cultures clashing. The news from that event continues to reverberate, but what lasting change will come from it?

It’s a familiar story.

Whether it’s health-care reform, immigration reform, religious freedom, sexual orientation or any of a number of issues, politicians often don’t vote the way the majority of Americans want.

After the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting in 2012, there were calls for expanded background checks for gun purchasers, including to screen for mental illness. Congress balked.

Now the Indiana General Assembly is seriously considering eliminating concealed carry permits. State police who conduct the background checks for those permits say they reject more than 4,000 applications annually. Eliminating those permits would, in effect, allow mentally ill people and those with criminal backgrounds to carry concealed weapons more easily, according to those who don't want the permits eliminated. 

Attempts to influence officeholders’ votes often include protesters carrying placards on public squares and other kinds of protests, but who do the politicians really listen to?

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, had the answer during his Sinai Forum lecture Sept. 10 at the Purdue University Northwest campus in Westville.

Congressmen don’t care one whit what people say in their letters to congressmen. They don’t care what protesters outside their offices say. Congressmen listen to just one special interest group.

Voters.

Historically, older Americans are more likely to vote than younger Americans. It’s why issues affecting senior citizens hold more weight than issues affecting young adults.

If politically astute protesters really want to change the world, they would do it not just with placards but also with mobilizing the vote.

When Scarborough was asked what the future might hold for millennials concerned about their perspectives not being heard, his advice was simple:

“Your friends, people your age, millennials, you have to get engaged like never before.”

“I’m not being melodramatic here,” Scarborough said. “Washington is stealing all your money. We’re $20 trillion in debt. We’re going to be $30 trillion in debt before Donald Trump leaves office, maybe $35 trillion in debt. It’s going to keep going up.

“The reason that happens is that young voters don’t get out and vote in as high a number,” Scarborough said.

“I remember when I was running for office, I heard some college students say, ‘Why don’t you advertise on the radio stations that I listen to?’ I said, ‘You don’t vote.’

“You’ve got to revive this country. You’ve got to rebuild this country. It’s going to take young people getting engaged, going to vote, to do that.”

In Indiana, Secretary of State Connie Lawson reported voter turnout last year was 58 percent — about 4 percent lower than in 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidency.

I’m all in favor of exercising one's First Amendment rights. Get out there and speak your mind. Tell people, especially politicians, what you want them to do to improve lives in your community, in your state, in your nation.

But if they don’t vote, protesters are wasting their breath.

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or doug.ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.