The further along we get in this election season, the more passionately I start dreaming of a total upheaval of our political system. Electoral college? Super PACs? Two-party system? Does this all really make sense for us anymore?
Join me on a little thought experiment:
What if politicians had to be accountable to the needs and interests of America’s young people? What if American’s youth joined us on Election Day in making our collective choices?
What if kids could vote?
I am concerned about the disenfranchisement of youth. Right now, the government seems to think of kids, particularly teenagers, as either problems or commodities. Some kids seem to really matter, and others not at all. This framework has an impact on how they are treated—in schools, in stores, in their neighborhoods. As a result, we have cultural and institutional systems that consistently fail the vast majority of our young people.
But why would we let kids vote?
As a feminist, I value the role of young people in our society. I listen to the teens in my life, and I learn from them. I am in awe of those who are engaged and taking action. Youth at the United Teen Equality Center even started a campaign to change local law to allow 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections.
So what would happen if kids could vote?
I know that lots of different kids would vote in lots of different ways and for lots of different reasons. But a voting age of 16 might put more weight behind key feminist issues. Youth know the need for more public school funding and fewer standardized tests. Youth want better funding for college through government grants and student loans. Youth want JOBS. Oh goodness do youth want jobs.
Youth in the United States are more likely to be of color and living in poverty. In fact, 22% of American children live in poverty. That’s more than one in five children. Youth have a lot at stake in current conversations about the role of government in addressing our financial crisis and severe economic inequality.
Political power is also a key piece of the process of giving young people power over their bodies and their futures. Many teens want to be able to have sex and not have babies. And I wonder how youth voting would impact same-sex marriage or anti-discrimination laws.
Sex. Love. Poverty. Education. Jobs. What other issues might be impacted by the youth vote?