By: Contributor Molly May
It is no secret that many young people today have expressed a disinterest in politics. Rather than a lack of ambition or curiosity, this indifference has come from feelings of alienation, lack of involvement, and disregard from politicians. A 2018 study by the Institute for Social Economic Research at the University of Essex found that a shocking 42% of 16 to 24-year-olds have no interest in political affairs.
Thankfully, the belief that the youth voice is powerless is only a delusion. The extraordinary impact that teen interest can have in the political world is one that continues to shape our future. Most teens don’t realize that their everyday concerns have direct links to topics of political discussion; from education systems and immigration to climate change, mental health, racism, and school shootings, things that concern teens most likely concern politicians as well.
This brings us to a common argument- “I can’t vote, so why does it matter?”
It is a widespread misconception that casting a ballot is the only way to make a difference. From grassroots organizing to canvassing to raising community awareness, young people are at the forefront of political change and are able to bring legislators’ attention to their concerns.
When 17 students and teachers were killed on February 14, 2018, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the youth spearheaded a national response. In the weeks following, young students around the country led school walkouts and vigils and began the #NeverAgain movement in the fight for gun safety. Student activist Emma González, now only 19 years old, is a co-founder of the #NeverAgain and March For Our Lives movements and has made extraordinary progress through pressuring NRA politicians to support gun safety laws. Her efforts are inspirational and demonstrate the power of the youth voice in ways apart from voting.
With countless other challenges to confront in today’s world, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is using her young voice to save the planet. At 15 years old, Thunberg experienced the effects of climate change firsthand during Sweden’s hottest summer in over 250 years. She began her activism journey by protesting in front of the Swedish parliament, demanding a reduction in carbon emissions in compliance with the Paris Agreement. Sporting her iconic braided pigtails, Thunberg has made speeches at meetings of the UK Parliament, European Union, and United Nations Climate Change Conference, as well as in a TED Talk. She has created the “Greta Thunberg Effect” and a global conversation about the harrowing effects of climate change. Determined to continue the spread of her message, Thunberg recently embarked on her journey across the Atlantic on a solar-powered yacht and has plans to speak at the Climate Action Summit in New York this September.
The actions of young people like González and Thunberg demonstrate the potential political power in the hands of the youth. While millions of children and teens around the world are either too young or unable to cast a ballot, the alternative ways for them to impact their community are endless. By debunking the myth that young people are too immature for their thoughts to be acknowledged, we can boost the confidence of the next generation of voters, leaders, and citizens. Currently, in America, youth voter turnout is at a low; from 1972 to 2016, voter turnout amongst 18 to 24 year-olds has dropped from 50% to 34%.
If continued, this atmosphere of disinterest and political apathy poses a threat to our democracy. In today’s world, ignorance is danger. It’s time to get educated and get moving.