The Power of Youth
I have always been involved with politics. I just didn’t know to call it politics.
As a teenager, I helped run the youth program at the homeless shelter in my town and worked with organizations that served new immigrants. When I turned 18, I wasn’t a voter. I didn’t think voting made any difference, and I didn’t consider myself “political.” It wasn’t until I turned 22 that I realized everything is connected to politics.
When I was 20, I moved to southern Spain. There, I experienced the first-hand effects of decisions made by my country’s politicians. One example was my friend who was displaced from his homeland, Nigeria. He immigrated to Spain because Chevron, an American corporation, moved into Nigeria and changed the entire face of his country both politically and economically. He asked me why I, as an American, allowed this.
In that moment, I realized that I helped cause his dislocation because I had no interest in American policies and took no action. I realized I could work my whole life trying to change the world, but if I didn’t address issues through the political process, I would never win.
So I tried working on the national political scene. I spent six months in a U.S. senator’s office but ended up leaving frustrated and disillusioned by the political process. Instead of making improvements, we seemed to be stepping backwards; things were changing too slowly. That’s when I got involved with the League of Young Voters.
The League is a national youth organization that is building a base of young people who are voting and pushing politicians to do the right thing. >>
"What frustrates me the most is an overall sense of mediocrity being OK. Everybody should expect and want more for themselves than 'just enough.' This is my life, and I don't want anybody else to have control over my life and my peers. Somebody has to step up to the plate. If not me, then who?"
Minrose is a high school senior and an intern for the League in Pennsylvania. She continues to be active in advocating public school education reform in Pittsburgh.
"If you don't like the way things are, you gotta change it, or else it's just gonna stay the same. And don't think you can't change it ... never deny yourself the power that you have."
Ana is the regional director of the League in San Francisco. She hopes to help create affordable housing and a safer environment for youth in the city.
"Be in charge of your own destiny. Inaction is action. Decisions and choices are being made on your behalf regardless [of whether] you participate. [From] streetlights to streets to trash to schools ... All of those are political decisions that take place at city hall and downtown. It's your responsibility to be active. Say something!"
Jayme is the state director of the League in Wisconsin. She is passionate about fostering a better relationship between older and younger people and is looking forward to the birth of her baby in November.
Interviews by Rachel Lau.
>> One of our biggest accomplishments is a ballot initiative called “Opportunity Maine."
The League chapter in the state of Maine recently led a successful grassroots campaign collecting 73,000 signatures to support a bill that would alleviate student debt and boost local economy. Because of all the support we rallied, by the time we walked into the state capitol, the legislature and governor were already prepared to sign the bill! Today, students can erase up to $32,000 in loans if they work in Maine after college.
For me, this victory was an amazing moment. People from other states started calling us, saying they were experiencing the same issues and wanting take the same initiatives. This was a huge realization for me: We, as young people, have the power to make the changes we want to see. We don’t need a president to solve our issues. We can accomplish so much just by understanding the process and how things work.
Young people in America have every reason in the world to take action. Street violence, which disproportionately affects youth and youth of color, isn’t getting the attention needed. If we don’t move boldly to address issues of climate change and green jobs, it is our generation that will bear the burden. Rising costs of education are making college unaffordable, even for the privileged! We must live in a country where those with the desire to get an education, can.
I believe educators everywhere hold a significant role in the lives of youth and need to help them realize their power as a young person and as a voter. They can do this by demystifying the political process with a few simple steps:
1. Educate students about basic voting information and help them realize their rights, values and issues that affect them.
2. Have registration cards on hand in your classroom for students who are eligible and parents and teachers who need to register to vote!
3. Set up mock elections in the classrooms. It doesn’t need to be for a person. Students can hold an election to elect classroom mascots or decide on the date of your field trip.
4. Prepare lessons to educate students about who politicians are and to emphasize that politicians are just like us!
My message to young people everywhere is that we must all take a stand, speak out, and help make our world a more fair place! You do not have to wait until you are 18 to make a difference. Voting is just one part of being involved! Some of the best canvassers in our organization are under 18. They are very effective in increasing voter turnout because they tell people, “I can’t go out and vote for myself, but I have come to you to ask you to vote to help make positive changes in our community.”
You can still lead your friends to make changes within your schools and communities. Together, you can start petitions, talk to elected officials, and attend rallies, hearings, and meetings.
We have been ignored, but we have the power to change that. It is now time for us to stand up for our rights and make the world reflect on our values. We have the power to change this country. All we have to do is speak up, speak out, and vote!
To learn more about the League and how to get your community involved, please visit: www.theleague.com.
The above resources accompany the September 2008 YES! Education Connection Newsletter
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