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Protest Amidst An Epidemic: #16ToVote

People protesting police brutality. It has been almost one week since the protests began, which has led to rioting and looting but also calls for reform. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

During the midst of the Coronavirus epidemic, calls for reforming the justice system continues throughout the U.S. Protests going on in many cities spanning the entire U.S. geographic region have been calling for justice for George Floyd as well, who lost his life during an arrest at the hands of four police officers last week. The protest originally started in Minneapolis, Minnesota but have since expanded through most large cities in the U.S., including New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Paul and many other cities.

Even at a time when social distancing should be the norm, it is anything but the norm, as rioting continues to escalate while you see conflicting efforts at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus- while many protesters are wearing facial mask coverings- either to prevent the spread of the virus or to conceal their identity during the protests, but they are also mobilizing in large numbers and in close quarters. Many times, it is to show solidarity, but also as they interact amongst each other and law enforcement, they are often thrown into even closer quarters and spaces as they navigate through the landscape of most major cities.

The events that have led up to this situation were probably unavoidable. As many people are slowly beginning to emerge from quarantine, not much has changed for them. At a time when the nation is facing unprecedented amounts of unemployment, with recent estimates putting that number at 40 million unemployed or almost a quarter of the workforce, old points of contention remain- disparity between the rich and the poor, racial tensions and distrust of the current political system. Many of these contentious issues have once again boiled to the surface, only temporarily hidden behind the watchful eye of the media but not completely forgotten as COVID-19 has temporarily taken center stage. However, as the nation continues to recover from it, old wounds have begun to open up once again.

Although there is no one solution that will fit all situations going on throughout the U.S., there are some basic things that can help get us a solution sooner. The first is to listen. This is clearly missing from upper levels of government, which is why we’re seeing the large public outcry against injustice. Especially when it comes to racial inequality. Racism may never go away. There will always be negative elements in society that plays an antagonistic role. Does that mean people should give up and not fight for racial injustice? Of course not! Otherwise the contributions of people like Martin Luther King Jr. would be for nothing. But this won’t happen unless people listen to the experiences of those who’ve faced injustice themselves. Especially those from voices of color, who’ve suffered at far more disproportionate numbers for so long.

The second is to enfranchise more voters. We should support lowering the voting age to 16. Many countries in the world already have this practice. Even Maryland has several cities that have this practice- and is growing! More cities and states in the U. S. are looking into the idea. One does not need to watch all different sources of news coverage to see that many of the protesters are young people of different races and all walks of life who don’t believe their opinion, much less their life, is valued by the government. Due to the effects of COVID-19, not only are many youth not in school, if their schedule would have allowed them to had COVID-19 not occurred, but they are also the victims of the devastated economy- younger people who were dependent on many food service jobs have been just as affected as those with blue and white collar jobs. They haven’t been able to mobilize for weeks to months in some cases. To see what awaits them in the outside world as was seen that set-off the events of the current protests is less than encouraging- you can start going to the outside world but rather than being fearful of a contagious virus, you’re fearful instead of law enforcement who are supposed to protect you instead of becoming a contributing factor to your death. Many of those experiencing the above are 16. They can loot, protest, post on social media, be affected by the economic downturn, still pay taxes on whatever income they’re earned this year and even face the consequences of their actions, whether that be justly or unjustly like with George Floyd, in regards to the recent riots and protests- but they cannot vote. This is also an injustice that needs to be addressed if any sort of reform is to occur out of these protests.

If more people are enfranchised and can vote on the issues that affect them, then this would lessen some of the frustrations on those protesting injustice. Does this mean it’s a cure-all solution? No, of course not. Injustice will still happen but things can be made better. Will it be a step in the right direction to getting more voices heard? Yes. Should all organizations, people and politicians work together to make #16ToVote happen? I say yes! If you’re reading this should you share this with other organizations and groups out there regardless of where we are in the movement? Yes! This is what’s called progress and collaboration! None of us can do this alone! This is what’s lacking right now and why we’re making little progress. We have an opportunity to do this right here, right now- but only if we work together instead of working separately!

If there’s going to be anything positive to result from 2020, let it be lowering the voting age to 16. But this will only happen if all of us who support the idea come to the table, sit down and discuss things logically like civilized individuals.

Jester Jersey

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