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The Importance of Empowering Student Voice in Politics


As the upcoming election draws near, more and more people are taking part in serious conversations about what they can do to improve our country’s current political state. Whether it be addressing the elections of federal officials, or figuring out appropriate methods for reopening schools, discussions among students often end with a dejected sigh followed by a statement along the lines of, “we’re just students, and we can’t even vote. There’s nothing much we can do to actually change anything.” While the first part of the statement may be true, there are plenty of alternatives and opportunities for us students that challenge the latter.

ORGANIZATIONS AND PLATFORMS

The policies that are passed by our lawmakers today directly impact the lives we lead in the future. As students, recognizing that our ideas hold weight in the decisions of our lawmakers is the first step in effecting change. Once we realize how much power our voices can have, we then have to find outlets to amplify them. In Oregon, and on a national scale, there are plenty of organizations, such as Oregon Student Voice or My School Votes, that can act as platforms for pushing policy changes or increasing political participation. These platforms often provide resources that also enable us to create our own projects, where we can initiate a wide array of improvements for our community. Another perfect platform that encourages a culture of student voice is social media. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, around two-thirds of teens who use social media find that it helps us discover new perspectives a

nd show support for the causes we care about. In the age of social media, students looking to spread or receive information on topics we’re passionate about have an easy and accessible outlet to do so.

EXERCISING RIGHTS AND CONTACTING GOVT. OFFICIALS

Starting from a young age, we can exercise our rights of free speech and assembly to make real change. For example, in October of 2017, the shutdown of Portland Public Schools’ ACCESS Academy was prevented by young students in 1st through 8th grade when they took to the streets with homemade signs to confront the school district and demand another solution. Knowing how to contact local and national representatives by mail, email, or phone number is also an extremely valuable way to push for changes in government, and students as young as 13 can create and sign White House petitions. The experience of going on walkouts and actively speaking with community leaders can help us recognize that our voices are valuable tools to make the changes we wish to see.

VOTING

Finally, we can use our voices by registering to vote and turning in our ballot when the time comes. Within the U.S. and the state of Oregon, even people who are old enough to vote often don’t. Voter turnout among eligible voters between the ages of 18-29 has always been drastically lower than that of other age groups. According to the United States Census Bureau, voter turnout among voters 18-29 years old was at 35.6%, almost half that of the 66.1% of voters ages 65 and older during the 2018 midterm elections. To combat this, we can exercise our voting rights by pre-registering or registering to vote as early as possible. In Oregon, citizens 16 and up can pre-register to vote, and anyone with a driver’s license will automatically be registered.

With the resources and opportunities available to us, we students can make a change. As young people who will be directly impacted by the decisions of our political leaders for years to come, learning how to actively use our voices in politics now– and continuing to use our voices in the future– is one of the best ways to drive our political society forward.

Sunlan Lu is a junior at Lincoln High School and a member of Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.

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Oregon Student Voice is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 2018.