Teens taking over the vote

For years, the American government has struggled to motivate the youngest eligible voters to get out to cast their ballot. Rapper P. Diddy launched a campaign in 2004 called Citizen Change. Their slogan “Vote or Die” was targeted at minority and youth voters in hopes that they would shake up the 2004 Presidental Election between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Armed with fellow celebrities like 50 Cent and Paris Hilton they got the message out.

The campaign did spike voter turn out for 18-29-year-olds. According to the census, 49 percent of the youngest eligible voters turned out – the highest number since the 1992 election where it was 52 percent. The number then rose to 51 percent in 2008 thanks in part to Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign. That number dropped off though in the last two presidential elections – 45 percent in 2012 and 46.1 percent in 2016. However, the 2016 overall turnout was the worst in years.

How does America encourage it’s 18 to 29-year-olds to get out and vote in the 2020 election?

Australia employs compulsory voting to ensure that its population casts their ballots. That means if they don’t vote, the citizen may have to attend a day in court and face a fine of $20. It’s enough the drive many people to the polling station, however, it has its pros and cons. One of the biggest issues is that uneducated voters are forced to cast a ballot. That means they might pick a choice by simply playing eeny, meeny, miny, moe—and that hardly seems like democracy. Furthermore, compulsory voting doesn’t make people excited to perform their civic duty; it makes them dread the day.

That sweeping change and motivation to be more involved in the voting process may have come on February 14th, 2018—more than two years away from the next American Presidential election. In yet another mass school shooting, 17 people were murdered, and another 17 were injured by a shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When mass shootings take place, gun control often becomes a topic that is heavily discussed. It happened after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Pulse and Vegas. Aside from sharing the grizzly fact that they all share that they were mass shootings, they also share that headlines soon disappeared calling for more gun legislation. Unlike all of the previous shootings, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one doesn’t allow those headlines to fade, thanks to a group of highly motivated teenagers who will be eligible to vote in the next election.

It started on February 22nd. With emotions still raw, CNN hosted a town hall that featured the students, parents and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, asking questions to Senator Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, other politicians, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch. It was where we got to know the faces of the students that wouldn’t back down. Cameron Kasky posed the idea that Rubio should turn down money from the National Rifle Association. Rubio wouldn’t say if we would turn down NRA funds. He did note that he supports the Second Amendment and school safety. Emma Gonzalez then went toe to toe with Dana Loesch, the NRA’s spokesperson not backing down.

Speaking of the NRA, they’re seeing something happen that has never happened before. They’re losing major sponsors.

Just when you thought the headlines were fading a national walkout was staged. At 10 am on March 14th, one month after the shooting, students walked out of their classrooms for 17 minutes, each one to honour the lives of those lost at Stoneman Douglas. The memorial and protest were to show that participants want Congress to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales, and pass laws that would allow the courts to disarm people who display the red flags of violent behaviour. It was wildly successful, once again making national and world headlines. Another walkout is planned for April 20th by 15-year-old Connecticut student Lane Murdock. It will be the 19th anniversary of the Columbine; this one calls for students to walk out of their classrooms at 10 am and not return for the rest of the day.

Recently, on March 24th the March for Our Lives demonstration took place across the United States and all over the world. It called for laws banning assault rifles, stopping the sale of high ammunition magazines and closing the loopholes that allow people to purchase guns. The turnout was once again attention-grabbing, the granddaughter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was on hand to speak as well, 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King told the crowd she has a dream, “Enough is enough”. It’s quite astonishing how the Parkland students were able to pull off this rally, but it just goes to show how empowered these teens are about seeking change.

The Parkland teens have had their share of media spotlight as well; they were on the cover of a recent Time Magazine. The article was released shortly before the March for Our Lives event and features the teens talking about why they’re doing what they’re doing as well as facing the trolls of the internet. David Hogg had to face the internets rath of conspiracy theorists calling him a crisis actor, Donald Trump’s son Don Jr even favourited a tweet about the topic.

Passionate activist Emma Gonzalez has also faced the trolls who photoshopped a photo of her ripping up a target to show her tearing apart the constitution. Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King then attacked the teen for wearing a Cuban Flag on her jacket in a Facebook post, “This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self-defense,” said the post, which also included a photo of González wearing the jacket.

These kids have shown that they can weather the storm of internet trolls, it helps keep their agenda from fading away so long as they receive press. While the next major election is two years away, the census should be ready to see an uptick in its youngest voters turning out. The majority of these teens that are upset now will be able to vote by the 2020 election. They’re poised to make a splash then.

Is your teen interested in voting and politics? Be sure to let them form their own opinions, don’t try to sway them if they don’t agree with your views.