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Working together to Make Change!

There are many movements right now to address issues that affect both young and old people. But those who have a say lean disproportionately to favor older individuals that aren’t as ethnically diverse and who’s concerns don’t always align with needs of a younger, more diverse crowd that will have to live longer with choices made that they had no say in.

Issues affect many people throughout life. Depending on where you are in your education, career or life stage, many issues will affect you. Unfortunately, not all people can have a say in what course those effects will have on them.

Recent laws have been trying to suppress the vote, something that has been fought for by the people for years. Many of these people who worked to make a better democracy for all have been historically marginalized groups: women, minorities, even people with disabilities, and in some cases, mix or all of the above. But another just as important group that are marginalized are the youth of today.

It is often said that today’s young people are the leaders of tomorrow. But that doesn’t feel like it. They’re affected by many decisions that they don’t have a say in, by people they didn’t elect, and sometimes, funded by the very funds they contributed as a taxpayer in their local economy through an income tax from employment. Even more so through sales taxes. However, there is no accompanying vote. This has to change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has really changed the way we see enfranchisement and the role many 16-year olds are playing in this environment. Like their older peers, they too have been affected by the closures of school, business and career opportunities. However, thanks to Pfizer-Biontech, they have been given an opportunity to participate in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. Despite this, there is still no vote for most 16-year olds, unless you’re lucky enough to live in a few select cities in Maryland. Even then, there are few opportunities to mobilize change outside your immediate “Earth-sphere”- issues that might be important to you that you have solved might not have been solved if you move to another city to go to school, work at a job or even to volunteer. A vote for all those in the taxpaying populace can make sure you can take the potential to effect change with you.

While there is hope now that Rep. Grace Meng of New York has again called for lowering the Federal voting age through H J Res 23, we might also be seeing one of the prime supporters of lowering the voting age, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in her last term as Speaker. If so, we do not know who will be her replacement, or how friendly towards lowering the voting age to 16 her next successor will be. Because of this, we need to act now to make sure that it is passed so we can give a voice to our young people.

Why is this urgent? There are many reasons, but consider what could happen if H J Res 23 is not passed:

  • Young people will miss out on the next few years to weigh in on issues that affect them today. This could range from a variety of issues, such as:
    • climate issues
    • school safety/violence
    • local representation
    • taxation, representation, etc.
  • As mentioned above, we don’t know how long the third highest politician in the land will be Speaker, much less how supportive her successor will be. We don’t even know if the majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate, the latter already being slim as it is, will hold. The same goes for the two top positions in government as well. There is too much political uncertainty to not prioritize this at this time.
  • Organizations that have already been working on lowering the voting age will have to start from square one again. We would have to rebuild momentum, wait a period of time again while youth will also have to continually deal with the issues they don’t have a say in and everyone else might have to possibly deal with other unknown issues, like another pandemic. Most efforts will only be local, and won’t be have a significant impact as H J Res 23 would. Even if small cities were somehow able to pass legislation in their local jurisdictions to lower the voting age, this would leave pockets of unenfranchisement throughout the U.S.

But on the bright side, we have the momentum, supportive people in office and more collaboration going for us. We also have a better appreciation for the role youth are playing even in this pandemic environment, something that we’ve never had to deal with in recent memory. We should take advantage of that momentum, the political current and current events in order to lower the voting age to 16. By giving a vote to the youth who are being affected by issues ranging from their school environment to the pandemic, from their home city to both coasts, youth can make can make political choices on issues that matter to them. H J Res 23 can address all of these. We have the framework and people now, so we should go for it.

Various organizations have began collaborating on a plan to support lowering the voting age to 16 in regards to H J Res 23, which is our best bet right now to enfranchise more youth, not only in one part of the U.S. but the whole country. Of course, it isn’t the only piece of legislation aimed at lowering the voting age, but if I listed every single one, you would need to do way more reading. Also, strategically, it is easier to effect change from the top down(i.e. Speaker Pelosi) than work our way up(smaller movements with little attention).

Right now, many groups are focused on the passage of H J Res 23 because it dwarfs all the other legislation out there. H J Res 23 can be a game changer if it is passed for many issues youth are invested in, like climate and school safety, but also pandemic-related events, like how they’re affected by transitioning to remote learning and weighing in on whether they would feel safe returning to school to name just a few. Because of this, we want to focus on making that successful. Like in the top-down example, the conflict is whether we enfranchise youth or not. Without a vote, regardless of the issue they want to weigh in on, they won’t be able to. If given a vote, they can weigh in on something as mundane as what wattage light bulb they want to use to illuminate their classrooms in a post-COVID learning environment to more serious, relevant issues like what form of remote learning might take if another pandemic happens in the future.

I’ve been in touch with other organizations and would like to collaborate with others if we’re not already doing so. Even if your focus isn’t on lowering the voting age or only on lowering the voting age or if it’s a combination of both, no matter what your goal is, the point of most youth-based organizations is to give their supporters a voice. The issues might differ, but if the current ways of doing things were okay and the people in these movements were satisfied, then there wouldn’t need to be any movements to change the status quo. Obviously this isn’t so, which is why we have organizations to make a difference. Many such organizations are backed by young supporters.

Now is not the time to focus on our differences, but the common goal to enfranchise more youth into active democratic participation and make a difference in the lives of youth today. It is crucial we work together so that young people can advocate for their own needs rather than someone imposing their views on them and shaping the political landscape around them.

As long as your organization is focused on making a difference, powered by youth, pro-youth and willing to work with other organizations to collaborate, I think there is a potential to work together. We might even be able to help you out on your particular issues, find commonalities in our strategies and even share resources. Regardless of the issue, getting a voice and a vote for our young people who do not have one can make a difference in what our society will look like the next few years. It is crucial that we work together on this so that young people can advocate for their own needs.

If we can connect with those at your particular organization’s leadership, I can facilitate contact with some of the top leadership at NYRA, Vote16USA and many others as well- we’re working on a plan to enfranchise more youth through a new campaign. All who can help and are willing to help are welcome. I can also connect you to organizations we are working with on this issue. This is a great time to seize the moment to enfranchise more youth.

Through our collaborative efforts and plan in place, we just might be able to get the vote for the young people powering our organizations, at a favorable time for all our movements, on issues that affect young people today, to make positive change and effect real change. I hope you can join us to make this happen. If you want to help, please get in touch with with me as soon as possible! Thank you.

-Jеstеr Jеrsеy

DаvisKiwаniаn@mаil.cоm (not gmail)

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