Teen Spotlight: We can’t vote, but we can still make a change | AspenTimes.com

Teen Spotlight: We can’t vote, but we can still make a change

Harper Axelman
Special to the Snowmass Sun

As high school students who aren’t yet old enough to vote, it often feels like we’re watching from the sidelines during election season as voters decide our future. It was especially frustrating in 2016, when millions of people did not vote. To me, it felt like they were throwing away their voice in the election.

This year was different: voter turnout was higher than it had been in 50 years, and Democratic candidate Joe Biden got the highest number of votes for a presidential candidate in history, according to the Associated Press. The record-shattering turnout was the result of grassroots organizing — a resounding message to use our voices to advocate for those who need to be heard and who cannot vote.

In this election, high schoolers like me found a way to motivate others to use their voice. Senior Tessa Guthrie, president of the Aspen High School Young Democrats club, said she was inspired to be involved in politics during Donald Trump’s presidency and wanted to make a change in this election.

“The choices that politicians make are going to affect youth, especially my generation, the most,” Guthrie said. “Lately I feel like they haven’t been making good decisions for our generation and for the future, just kind of for short-term and individual interests.”

Guthrie also added that it is important to recognize that politics affects the human rights of many people, even though some are not directly impacted by politicians’ choices.

“Mostly I got involved because I felt like it was really important to help people around me, especially because I’m extremely privileged and my school has a great education and I’ve been really fortunate, but a lot of people aren’t,” Guthrie said.

Social media also gives Generation Z a unique and powerful tool to organize and make a change, even when we are not old enough to vote.

“I think it’s really easy to get involved nowadays, especially because we’re all pretty much experts in social media — we know how to do our research if we take the time,” Guthrie said. “Our opinion really is valued and I think it should be valued in today’s society.”

And young people can make an impact, by inspiring others to use their voice. Student representative Jeremy Martin, a senior who currently serves as head boy at AHS, collaborated with fellow students to organize a rally with West Slope Youth Vote. The non-partisan, student-led campaign aims to inspire high school students to be politically active across the Colorado Western Slope.

“Because most high school students aren’t of legal voting age, politics might not feel relevant or important — but the truth is, whether we like it or not, it’s crucial that we stay educated and conscious about our democracy,” Martin said.

Youth organizing led to historic turnout in this election, especially among the young voting bloc. Research by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University found that with more than half of all eligible young voters turned in their ballots this year — compared to roughly 45% in the 2016 election.

“While that’s a great statistic and one that I think is worth celebrating, it’s also important to note that young people still vote at a lower rate than any other age group,” Martin said.“Voting is a simple and effective way to make your voice heard in America, but it’s important to understand that it’s only the first step towards making change.”

That may be an encouraging thought for high schoolers who aren’t yet eligible to vote. Martin said students can still get involved by writing letters to their local, state and federal representatives and by working with organizations dedicated to the issues they care about.

“Change doesn’t start and end at the ballot box,” Martin said. “There’s still a long way for us to go.”

Harper Axelman is a sophomore at Aspen High School and is a contributor to the Skier Scribbler school newspaper. This is her second year with the paper.


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