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#16ToVote: The Need for Improved Collaboration!!

The Golden Gate Bridge in the city of San Francisco. This city has quite a bit of meaning to me personally as well as the #16ToVote Movement. In addition to being Twitter’s HQ where I worked for some time, it’s also the district that Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi represents. Pelosi is by far the biggest, but not the only, supporter of lowering the voting age to 16. It’s also the city I completed my nationwide walk in 2015 after walking for nearly four months in order to promote lowering the voting age (I will get to that more later). It’s also where two efforts to lower the voting age have been attempted, most recently being this year. Both attempts have failed so far. Today’s blog will offer commentary as to why I believe this is a failure of collaboration among the different groups advocating for it. & what we need to do if any future attempts are to be successful.

I don’t usually write much on these blogs- readership is usually low. Perhaps you, the reader, can help with this in the future. But for the sake of the movement, & today being the 16th, when I always post one blog in support of lowering the voting age like I have for more than 5 years, and I’m feeling a little chatty today, you’re going to read all my thoughts on the matter, both the good & the bad, on lowering the voting age to 16. While I won’t be abandoning the work on lowering the voting age, I am rather disappointed at certain groups and will be discussing this in a good portion of today’s blog. First off, let’s start about my work, as some readers of today’s blog may not be familiar with me, so take this as sort of an introductory post as well. If you do read one blog post today or one I’ve ever written, make it this one.

So in case you may not be aware, I’m a supporter of lowering the voting age to 16. I’ve been a supporter for more than a decade, ever since I heard one area in Switzerland had lowered it’s voting age sometime in 2006. It was around that time I learned about an organization, NYRA(National Youth Rights Association), and their work. At the time, lowering the voting age to 16 wasn’t really a popular idea or movement. Things like marriage equality/same gender unions itself was in it’s infancy. Although I wanted to join NYRA, being a Californian, the distance to HQ(Washington D.C. at the time, I believe) was intimidating. I was also still a student going to school, so I didn’t have the luxury of traveling. The east coast was just too far away. Additionally, I grew up in a not politically conservative but lifestyle-conservative home, so supporting “fringe” ideas like lowering the voting age would probably not be an easy thing to do, given how young I was at the time and the kinds of values my family held.

Fast forward to the early 2010’s. I was now in college and had seen that NYRA was growing as an organization. They’ve been really active in Maryland as well and I think they tried a few times in Maryland to lower the voting age to 16. We also had something similar a few years before in California, but again, the concept of lowering the voting age was new at the time, so support for it wasn’t as big as compared to today. I was inspired and encouraged by NYRA and other groups working on enfranchising taxpaying youth(because I had my first job at 16 and paid taxes on it like any taxpaying youth), especially after their initial victory in Takoma Park, Maryland in 2013. I saw what I could do to help, but even at that time, finding help in as liberal a state as California was still a difficult endeavor, so I stayed informed but was limited on what I could do.

Fast forward just a few years- 2014-2015-ish. I had joined a service club called Kiwanis(similar to Lions, Rotary, etc.) after graduating college. I’m a big supporter of volunteering and wanted to help my community. I also learned that Kiwanis was fundraising for a charity they were working on with UnicefUSA(the people who do trick-or-treating with UNICEF each year). I also learned that Kiwanis, internationally, was going to celebrate it’s 100th anniversary in 2015. Based on all the information I had at the time, I decided I was going to walk across the United States. One of those reasons was because I also wanted to open dialogue for lowering the voting age to 16 in addition to raising money for the said charity(info can found here). A had read a few people had done something similar around that time, so I figured I would do the same.

For nearly four difficult months, from May to September of 2015, I trekked, literally, from sea to shining sea, by foot, to get from New York City, NY to San Francisco, CA. I lived off mostly donations, because I was not able to save much prior to it and depended on the generosity of clubs I traveled to and strangers to help me get by at many points of my travels. During that time, I also endured weather, isolation/loneliness, bug bites & uncertainty, in order to promote lowering the voting age and raise money for Kiwanis/UnicefUSA.

On the eve of Labor Day weekend 2015, I had completed my nearly 4,000 mile trek, reaching San Francisco just a week after September(route wasn’t exactly east to west and I opted for a longer route). Shortly thereafter, I not only learned that I became the largest fundraising individual of the charity, but I also brought more attention to lowering the voting age than I thought- Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently first advocated for lowering the voting age to 16 during my walk, in August of 2015. That was the first time it had national coverage and had an endorsing politician to do so. Like I mentioned earlier, we’ve had smaller local stuff in California, like Takoma Park & Hyattsville in Maryland did, but nothing of this magnitude before. I’d like to think in some way, in some brief instant, Speaker Pelosi saw a story about a person walking across the United States and was compelled to make that statement. I want to believe I had played some role in that happening. Other groups also emerged around this time that advocated for lowering the voting age, which was something I hadn’t expected. I was glad we were growing.

Of course, just because someone says something, it doesn’t mean it will happen. Even with the Speaker of the House advocating for a lowered voting age, it wouldn’t automatically happen. I wasn’t expecting this either. There’s work to be involved, so I was always looking for new ways to make lowering the voting age to 16 more likely to happen. I decided I would reach out to some of the different groups that had emerged.

After my walk, I was approached by a few other places as well. Twitter for instance was one notable group. I took up their offer because of how close they were to where I lived & was able to work with them for a few years. Not as an employee, but as an insider of sorts, getting a preview of what’s happening on the platform while also getting a heads up on future innovations(much of what you see today was stuff I previewed way back then, but wasn’t released until recently- implementation can take time…). Although I no longer work with Twitter to this extent, I do value my time there and learned plenty, most importantly the way things “trended” on the platform. Another reason I took the offer was because I was also interested in helping promote lowering the voting age through the hashtag “#16ToVote”, which NYRA has actually been doing for many years, and other movements had taken up. Hence, the hashtag of choice when I made Tweetstorm kits for events about lowering the voting age to 16, as well as the namesake of this blog and one of my Twitter accounts that I use to promote the movement. However, I had a less than pleasant experience, from my perspective, from what I thought would be one of the larger supporters of the movement and one that I thought would have been more helpful than not.

After my walk across the U.S., I noticed groups began emerging around the idea of lowering the voting age to 16. There were a few here and there and some were larger than others. Seeing how I was just fresh from a nationwide walk to promote the idea, I approached one organization. I was then disappointed that said organization refused to collaborate with me and didn’t want my “help”. The following year was when San Francisco first started calling for lowering the voting age through Prop. F. We all know how that resulted- it was close, but it failed.

Two years had passed. It was now 2018. First, the tragedy in Las Vegas happened just a few months prior, in late 2017. Then the unfortunate incident at Parkland, Florida happened just a few months later, in February. That year saw a blue political wave, as people became fed up with students having to risk life & limb for an education, as well as a need for better regulation on firearms. The House saw a large growth of freshmen Democrats. Even one of the most conspicuous of the Parkland students affected by the tragedy, David Hogg, who is often seen as one of the faces of the tragedy and main spokespersons, supported lowering the voting age to 16. In fact, he’s done so numerous times as well. Even many of Hogg’s immediate circle from Parkland also support the idea. Not only do youths not have a say in where their tax dollars are spent, but they don’t even have a say in their own safety while at school. Unless you’re lucky enough to be in Berkeley, CA and a few other places where school board elections have lowered the voting age to 16, you won’t be able to have much of a say in your local school board. This is even more critical due to COVID-19, which I won’t go into here. Just know youth are also suffering as well- through health problems of their own, loss of work, school issues because of the pandemic, & unfortunately, even family tragedy as you read this. But they don’t have a vote on these and other issues that are affecting them today.

Last year marked a change or shift in the national dialogue. Not only had Speaker Pelosi once again called for lowering the voting age to 16 a second time, but one of the “Squad’s” “Freshman Four”, Ayanna Pressley, also introduced legislation that would have lowered the voting age to 16 on a national scale, a consequence of the “Blue Wave”. Obviously, that didn’t pass, but it did get bi-partisan support- even a Republican voted in favor of it. This shows the idea isn’t a partisan thing, but that we want all taxpaying youths who contribute to their local and national economy to have a vote. Now imagine if it had the support of all the organizations, representatives and people reading this right now. Now imagine if after reading this we actually worked together instead of working in our own separate worlds. This movement is far bigger than any one of us and we’re all not working in a vacuum- what each of us contributes helps the general movement, whatever resource that is. At this time, it’s still lacking & we need to collaborate more.

With the change in focus on a more collaborative endeavor, as well as renewed calls by Pelosi and new voices like Ayanna Pressley, I sought to once again try to see if I could unite all the different groups working to lower the voting age to 16. By now, there were even more groups than 2015, but obviously the big names were still priority contacts. I went back knocking on a few online doors to see if I would get a different response than the one I received in 2015/2016. Sad to say, nothing had changed. This was in late 2019, long before the effects of COVID-19. Now, we’re at where we were at with Prop. G, much like Prop. F four years ago, it has once again failed. Should we wait for “Prop. H”(assuming if that’s what it’s to be called based on the nomenclature pattern, if there even is going to be one) the next time around, whenever that may be? Should we all work in our own separate little bubble and hope that we don’t have to collaborate with others that could potentially connect us with additional supporters? Does anyone believe I will “knock” a third time to reach out to reach out to the same people, to the same organization that refuses to work with me(see pic below)? For the latter, this will depend on how those who are currently working on the movement decide to move forward. I cannot change people’s minds if they don’t decide to listen first. I would answer “No” to the above questions I posed. I hope you will too.

In closing, I want to make a few simple, yet understandable statements that you can understand no matter where you are in the movement, from simple supporter like myself, to the most well-connected president/CEO/etc. of an organization supporting it:

First, I’m not a know-it-all. I don’t claim to be nor will I ever claim to be one. I learn something new each day. I want to make very clear that I don’t consider my contributions any superior to any group or movement reading this. However, at the same time, I don’t want to be knocked off & brushed off as if I know nothing about the movement and just an insignificant contributor- not unless you’ve literally walked close to 4,000 miles in my shoes or have social media technical know-how to make a difference in a movement that you only just joined recently. I may not be the oldest supporter of the movement, nor the one who’s supported it the longest, but I’ve been around for quite a while to know what works & what doesn’t.

Second, as the current model stands, which is to work in our own separate little corners, I am here to tell you that it is not sustainable- we have to work together. This statement is obviously not aimed at all movements. Some are very collaborative and helpful, and I’ve gotten to know many members from some of these groups. They know who they are. But some collaboration, or at the very least, a listening ear, would be helpful. We might not always agree on everything, but we can share vital resources with one another that will help the general movement.

In both of the points I made above, working together is the solution. As a general movement, yes, we are growing. But, also as a growing movement, we are also not collaborating all that well. Look at the example for climate change and how big their movement is, as well as the one for March For Our Lives a few years ago. An even more recent example is the Black Lives Matter Movement(BLM). That is what I want the #16ToVote movement to reach. That’s just not happening at our current level, and I believe not collaborating in a meaningful way with a clear, cohesive strategy has been detrimental to the success of lowering the voting age in areas open to it. Again, I have ideas that might be useful, but if you’re not going to hear me out, it helps no one.

I’m willing to sit down and talk with whoever is willing to listen. I will listen to you as well and hear what you have to say, but I’ll be least likely to listen if you brush me off if I promote trying to work together. I cannot reach out to you if you’re not willing to listen nor collaborate. I’m not here to cause trouble or make fun of your strategy or way of doing things. I’m here to see how I can help your movement and supplement it. Want to help? Email me; call me; talk to me. Strategize & communicate! I have various ideas on how we can make it happen. Let’s reach an understanding. I’m a pretty easy person to reach. I may not always get back to you right away, but barring a technical issue or some other unforeseen event, I’m more likely to get back to you if it’s an important matter. But don’t shut me down without having to hear what I have to say first or belittle my thoughts. Obviously, things don’t happen overnight. Yeah, I get that. I think most of us do. Refusing to collaborate among an already small group of supporters scattered throughout the U.S. is not understandable. It’s not smart- it’s just insane! As a great mind once said:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over & over again & expecting different results.”

-Albert Einstein

As Einstein said above, I’m not insane but a rational person, with rational, strategic approaches and ideas that may benefit movements that support lowering the voting age. I’m also a big believer in second chances when it comes to reaching out to others, even those that have turned me down the first time. However, not so much so in third ones. & if you finally do reach out to me after that, there should be a compelling reason why.

I’m not asking anyone to join or leave an organization- having a diverse mix of organizations focused on an issue here or there is fine. In fact, it’s great because it shows the various reasons why we have a common goal- there are many issues that could used additional enfranchised voices. But we have vast reserves of untapped potential and resources that aren’t being used effectively. There has to be some element of collaboration if there is any hope for enfranchising more voters, especially 16-year old voters who don’t have a vote. We need to stop working in our own little separate corners today & work together by reaching out to other movements & supporters, no matter how small, to enfranchise the future leaders of tomorrow– who are depending on us to get our acts together. Help me help you. Don’t disappoint the next leaders of democracy!

Jester Jersey

@16ToVoteProject

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