As our country becomes more and more politically divided, students should embrace their responsibility to uphold democracy.
As issues such as reproductive rights, climate justice, and marriage equality found themselves on the ballot this election, more and more young voters took their voices to the ballots and the streets with the intent of bringing change to democracy.
Now more than ever, youth involvement in democracy continues to rise. As social justice issues hit the media with force during the 2020 quarantine, I found myself noticing similar issues that were affecting me and my peers. Whether it was race relations in American schools, a lack of representation in the curriculum, or the safety of students when it came to COVID precautions, we were suddenly enveloped in a never-ending, heated political debate.
While some students felt more comfortable to sit back and let the adults deal with these difficult topics, me and some of my peers felt these issues were just as much our fight as they were the responsibility of elected officials.
Last year, as the school board race became more prevalent, I decided to take this opportunity as a launching pad into my political endeavors.
Working for the Together For NA school board slate, I took guidance from campaign manager Ben Forstate. I gained experience in canvassing, phone banking, and working on election day. I learned what it meant to take initiative in my community, how to have engaging conversations with both like-minded people and those with opposing views, and I got to meet incredible people from politicians to other passionate volunteers. I have since worked on two other political campaigns in both the primaries and the midterms.
The most important thing I learned from this experience is the value of youth involvement in local and national politics. While many NASH students could vote now on Tuesday, we are the future change makers, politicians, and upholders of a strong democracy.
When young people get involved in politics, they bring attention to issues that sometimes are not on the radars of older generations. In particular, our generation has fought for the planet extensively, forcing politicians to prioritize sound, long-term environmental policies over short-term gain.
If you don’t get involved at a young age, you are more likely to fall into that mindset of ‘I don’t do politics because my vote doesn’t matter.— Elise Britton, NASH senior
Another benefit of becoming politically active at a young age is that it teaches us how much we are affected by lesser-known policies and how much those around us are impacted by our vote.
Throughout my time engaged in politics and activism, I have gained empathy for less fortunate communities. I have seen first-hand how large scale anti-LGBTQ laws have impacted loved ones, along with everyday micro-aggressions heard in the hallways or in everyday conversations towards different ethnic groups, races, and religions. It is a necessity that voters of all ages understand how their vote impacts themselves but also those around them– near and far.
I am most certainly not the only student involved in politics. Clubs in our schools, such as Social Justice Club, NA MSU, and the Black Student Union, continue to encourage youth involvement through civic engagement.
Most widely known in and beyond our district is NA For Change. Started by NA students and alumni, NAFC is a grassroots organization compiled of North Allegheny community members pushing for policy and cultural change in order to make our schools and community more inclusive for all students.
This group of outspoken students has brought changes to the curriculum in the form of more diverse books. We have worked hard to strengthen the prevention of sexual assault along with encouraging students to use their voices to have difficult conversations both inside and outside of the classroom.
Elise Britton, a core member of NA For Change, encourages all students, regardless of political views, to use their voices to stand up for what they believe in.
“As cliché as it sounds,” Britton said, “our generation is quite literally the future. All the decisions being made by politicians now are going to affect us in the long run. I think if you don’t get involved at a young age, you are more likely to fall into that mindset of ‘I don’t do politics because my vote doesn’t matter’ or something similar.”
While my political beliefs are clearly left-leaning, I am encouraged to see young people become involved across the political spectrum. All too often, we take our rights for granted. If we don’t speak up now, we may find ourselves deeply regretting the course of our future.
This article originally appeared in The Uproar.
Photo Credit: Martin Karl