We are a generation of concerned youth. A normal day on social media involves videos and posts reminding us that the world we live in is broken. With all the injustice and negligence occurring, it seems that America is crying out for help. While in the midst of this, many youth are thought of as being unconcerned. Distracted by our virtual world. In reality however, we are very aware of our country’s need for reform. Young Americans demonstrate a passion for bettering our country. At Midtown High School, a club called Midtown High Votes was created to help teens better their community through civic action.
This is a very beneficial opportunity as youth are very vocal on our desire for a more sustainable environment to live in, as well as a safe social environment to engage in. Things like racial, gender, and sexual equality are very prevalent in our concerns for our country. We, the young people of America, are hearing the country cry for our help and we are responding. However, no matter how loud we shout back at our issues, we cannot move mountains by shouting at them. Our vocal criticism, however accurate and thought provoking, cannot be fully beneficial without us taking these issues directly to the people who can improve them. Our voices are powerful and so are our votes. Our country needs our opinionated young voters of all backgrounds, genders, and orientations.
Taking a look at our teenage trailblazers at Midtown High School in downtown Atlanta, teens as young as 14 are educating themselves and others about voting through a club called Midtown High Votes. Members of the club were interviewed starting with one of its founders, civics teacher Chris Rhodenbaugh. Rhodenbaugh first explains that the club itself was not officially recognized as a club until August 2021. During quarantine it was simply a group of high school students reaching out in the community to educate people about voting. Since then, Midtown High Votes has created passionate students ready to be civic leaders.
“The purpose of this club is to close the age and race gap in civic participation,” says Rhodenbaugh. “This club wants to register people to vote, help provide pathways for people to learn about candidates and elections, and provide pathways for young people to learn how to influence local government systems.”
“I joined because I was really interested in getting more people out to vote,” says Bella Luz, 17. “I didn’t really know anything about the voting process before I joined the club, and I didn’t realize how important local elections are. Through this club, I learned the importance.”
Fellow member Sierra Pape agrees, telling VOX ATL, “Youth a lot of the time don’t understand the system of voting especially in underrepresented and underprivileged areas, and the base of this club lies in not just getting people to vote, but helping them understand what voting is and how it works.”
Young eligible voters appeared to take a break from voting after the 2008 elections that resulted in our first Black president. That election had an especially impressive youth turnout, increasing by 3.4 million since the 2004 elections. 80% of surveyed participants reported being highly interested in that specific election. Many reported that they believed it to be historic, which it proved itself to indeed be. That voter turnout had reversed a historically repeating decline in young voter participation that disappointingly continued afterward. In 2016, the heated presidential election only attracted 43% of young voters, once again declining. However, the 2020 presidential election woke us up as an issue of our rights and safety were threatened. After the election it’s clear that young voters are back on the forefront! 50% of all eligible youth cast their ballots in 2020. Here in Georgia, 45% of our teen voters alone participated. This year, the hype is about our highly anticipated Georgia state elections and there are teens ready to go to the polls!
“Democracy is more resilient and lasting when everyone eligible participates,” says Rhodenbaugh. “In this country, young people are less likely to vote and get involved in local politics. When young people aren’t participating at the same rate as older Americans, the policies and laws we get are more likely to benefit the interests of older Americans. The country would be better off if young people’s voice was equal to the other people of the country.”
It has been proven that youth (ages 18-29) are the least likely age group to vote. According to the United States Census Bureau, voter turnout has been highest among citizens ages 65 to 74, while the percentage is typically lowest among those ages 18 to 24. A bigger problem, not only is there an age gap, there is a race gap in our voter participation. According to a study by Tisch College, white youth vote at a higher rate (61%) than young people of other ethnicities. They show that white youth lead out in registration, while Asian Americans, Indigenous Americans, and Black Americans typically have the lowest turnout. This is absolutely problematic because the policies written for us are so much less likely to benefit us if we do not advocate for ourselves.
“Our generation loves to have a voice and an opinion using social media as a platform,” says 15-year-old Midtown High Votes vice-president Tyler Austin. “Voting is another way to have a say in what happens in our world.”
Midtown High Votes member Mira Silverman expresses that it is important for youth to vote because, “a lot of systemic issues affect young people, and it’s important that we educate ourselves. It seems like it doesn’t affect us but it really does.” She adds, “Because we are so opinionated, if we have the option to make change, I think it’s especially important that we do.”
When asked what issues are important to them, students responded with problems like climate change, racial and gender equality, and women’s rights. Bella Luz tells us, “important issues to me right now are affordable housing and healthcare, along with accessible voting for all.” Megan Scarano responded, “Abortion because as a young woman it’s very scary to think that we are going backwards in time when it comes to women’s bodies.”
Lastly, the students told us how being in this club has benefited them as citizens. Bella Luz stated, “When I first joined, we learned about all the candidates running in the elections. Ever since then, I have been reaching out to my friends and encouraging them to register to vote. I have also learned the fundamentals of voting…” Tyler Austin shares, “I’ve learned a lot. Coming into this club, I had my thoughts and opinions about voter registration. Since being here and having power in this club, I’ve learned from people and information from the activities we’ve done and talking to people. I’ve just learned a lot.”
Rhodenbaugh leaves us with this thought, “You don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to be actively involved in politics. Midtown High Votes actually has more people involved in the club who are not old enough to vote. Someone who is not old enough to vote themselves can take a cousin, uncle, parent, or friend of theirs who is 18. In some way they’re expressing themselves politically. Everyone has power and that power is often the relationships they have with others.”
After speaking with these students, it seems clear that our future is bright. For a long time, our generation has been seen as lazy and distracted, often via cell phones and social media. But as we can see in the responses from these students, the very things that are said to be making us unintelligent, are enabling us to be contributing citizens. Like Tyler said, youth are all over the web voicing their opinions on topics that they feel strongly about. These issues like housing, climate change, and inequality have been brought to our attention and we have realized that we must help make change. We are the coming generation, voting is no longer a matter for the adults. Our passion for bettering our world is amazing! The fact that we have people as accessible as teachers helping us improve our communities in whatever avenue they can is truly inspiring. This teaches us that sometimes all you need is a little support, education, and willpower to make an impact.