Catlin Gabel School, Catlin Speak
At 6 a.m., Saturday morning, Eric Wang ’15 stumbled onto a yellow Catlin Gabel school bus. Behind him 11 students filed in. Amidst laughter and sleep, Catlin’s JSA chapter bounced down I-5, and four hours later pulled into the hotel in SeaTac, Washington. After unloading and changing into suit and tie, they arrived at the Junior State of America (JSA) Fall State Convention.
The idea that teenagers, most of whom are not eligible to vote, spend whole weekends and free time debating political issues that currently won’t affect may seem odd. Many teenagers in today’s society simply ask, “Why should I care about this? I can’t vote. It doesn’t affect me.”
Even when teenagers become eligible to vote, many don’t. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) released statistics saying that only 21.5% of youth voted in this years’ midterm elections. According to the US Census Bureau, only 45% of 18-29 years old voted in the 2012 presidential election. Furthermore, the next age range (30-44) had a 15% higher voter turnout than the 18-29 year olds, and the numbers only go up from there. It seems ironic that the youngest eligible voters, with the most at stake regarding the future of the country, vote the least out of any age group.
When asked about why it was important to take part in political discussion and knowledge, JSA members (most of which were ineligible to vote) responded enthusiastically.
“Politics is a lot like reading,” said Edward Park, senior at Issaquah High School. “After you read you know a lot more, but at the same time you realize how little you know about the world. In terms of politics, it feeds your curiosity about the world and you want to know how it runs, how much there is to know and in terms of curiosity it feeds the youth which is why it’s so important for youth to be involved in politics.”
Unfortunately, for many students (and the state of the country in the coming years), there seems to be a lack of interest in the political aspect of the world.
Brynne McKee, a junior at International School of Bellevue Washington, who is also their Chapter President as well as GPR Vice-Mayor and State Director of Publicity for the Northwest Region of JSA, concurred.
“We are the future leaders of America, and currently, as we learn about the issues, we’re more actually problem solving.”
Teenagers can make a big difference when it comes to campaigns, even without their vote. Maddie Leonard, Senior at Sunset high school and President of Sunset’s JSA chapter, listed some of the ways teenagers make a difference students to be interested and involved in politics because they are the future of America. “It fills so many more skills than just political knowledge, which is mainly what we fight for but we also transform people’s public speaking,” and concluded with “It builds life skills and you meet lifelong friends.”
The issues that teenagers care about, or will care about, are not those that the adults who are doing most of the voting today.
In a poll by Pew Research, findings revealed that 59 percent of 18-29 year olds think that the government should do more to solve problems, while only 35 percent of people 65 and older agree. This is something that youth are talking about, and something we care about. One of the JSA debate topics at Fall State was “Resolved, devolution of Federal Power would be beneficial for the United States.”
A different Pew Research Study found that 69 percent of voters 65 and older thought that immigration reform was very important for congress to address, while only 49 percent of 18-29 years olds thought that is was important. Complimenting this, not a single JSA debate this year involved immigration. The Pew Research Study continues to present how for every issue youth today care about, the older age groups do not. Similarly, for every issue the older age groups care about, the youth do not.
The need for a politically educated generation of teenagers is not a necessity for one reason. It comes down to many reasons. Political knowledge fills a yearning for knowledge of the workings of the world. We need to fight for what we want, and not let the adults decide our futures. Perhaps most importantly, the more we know about these topics, the better our lives will be in the future.
There are a multitude of reasons why teenagers should care about the politics today and ways to get involved. So consider volunteering on a campaign or just speaking out about issues you care about.