Many young people may tune out as soon as they hear the word "political" or a fancy word that sounds like it. It can seem hard to do things like register to vote, and the whole voting and election process can seem boring. And young people who aren't old enough to vote may think that their participation in any of it is pointless since they can't vote yet. But none of these ideas are even close to the truth.
In fact, every student should be civically engaged within their communities.
Being civically engaged can include many different things, such as voting. But lots of young people don’t think their vote matters, so they skip the opportunity. (Skipping just one election won’t hurt, right?) Although this mindset is common, studies show that when youth did have a higher-than-normal voter turnout, they made an impact, such as with the 2020 presidential election.
Not just the big elections for president are important. Local ones matter, if not as much as national ones. Local laws affect a student's school, parks, and everything else in their neighborhood. Also, a community will be better off the better the laws are.
But being civically engaged isn’t only about voting.
It also has nothing to do with being a mini-president or an activist of any kind. Being involved in your community means that you care about change and do what you can to make it happen.
These changes could be things like starting up a Black Student Union (BSU) at your high school, or speaking about concerns in your community to your local board members.
The issue is, many young people don’t realize that they have a voice.
When asked about her involvement in civic engagement, Tadala Kaoma, 17, a recent graduate of Cobb County Schools in Georgia, said, “I’m not really at all, it’s in the older people’s hands, adults.” When asked why, she said it’s discouraging. “They’re supposed to be the student’s voice, they’re supposed to listen to us, but I don’t think they listen to us. I see some of the policies they implement, like, this isn’t what we want; they aren’t representing us well.”
For context, recently in Cobb County, they implemented a policy that allows non-certified law enforcement to carry weapons, including guns, on school grounds.
One of the hardest things about being civically engaged is that sometimes adults don't take students seriously or don't do a good job of representing the students. Many young people who speak out may have to speak their concerns several times before a change is made. But the positive impact you make on your community will always make the experience worthwhile.
By standing against injustice and speaking up, or by making a stance about an issue that seems small, it may soon snowball into an entire movement - such as Student Voice, a national student led organization that started off with just a Twitter thread.
Whatever route a student takes to being civically engaged - whether that be voting, starting a club, or speaking at a board meeting - it is the right route. The changemaking route.
This month, young people across the country will have an easy opportunity to take that route - they will have the opportunity to cast their ballot in the 2022 midterm elections on Nov. 8.
People under 18 can get involved in the election season in many ways, like working at the polls or helping with volunteer events at school. Organizations such as Student Voice and 18 by Vote are examples of student-led organizations that bring about change in their communities by doing anything from hosting voting workshops to organizing community events. No amount of civic engagement is too small, and no one has to be a mini president in order to invoke change in their community. It all begins with a voice, and everyone has just that.