Listen up, stay informed
Turning 16 is significant for many reasons. It is the age that youth can register to vote. And while they cannot put voice to ballot until they have legally reached adulthood, youth are seeing the importance of being politically aware early on.
In today's divisive political climate, the tendency to turn away from rage and rhetoric often leads to apathy and an unwillingness to get involved.
But members of the Spokesman's Student Writers Advisory Group (SWAG) say it's crucial that young people do not turn away, because the decisions being made by politicians at every level have a profound impact on their lives — now and in the future.
"It's easy to dismiss politics as something we can look into later in our lives," said Wilsonville High School junior Sydney Byun. "However, it is inevitable that we will be equally, if not more preoccupied, once we graduate from high school. Many young people continue to make the same excuses once they reach voting age and approach adulthood, hence the historically low voter turnout in the United States."
In light of the recent midterm election, we asked members of SWAG about the importance — or lack thereof — of young people being politically involved and informed.
Here's what they had to say:
Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, the past few years have rattled the foundation of American politics. Dropping the niceties of political correctness, President Donald Trump's rhetoric has impressed, shocked and troubled Americans nationwide.
Since the election in 2016, we've seen the divide between Democrats and Republicans grow into a gaping chasm. The two parties, fueled by tensions and animosity from Trump's victory, have become more radicalized than ever. As a country, we've moved toward party loyalty over independent thought, viewing politics through the lens of an us-versus-them perspective. The goal of public servants should be to use politics as a vehicle to help better the nation, although no one is naive enough to believe this to be an all-encompassing statement.
As teenagers, we procrastinate like no other. It's easy to dismiss politics as something we can look into later in our lives. However, it is inevitable that we will be equally, if not more preoccupied, once we graduate from high school. Many young people continue to make the same excuses once they reach voting age and approach adulthood, hence the historically low voter turnout in the United States.
It's not enough to simply claim loyalty to one party or the other, as this pledge means nothing if there is no deeper understanding of the issues at hand. It is vital that teenagers are adequately educated to discourage them from blindly accepting the political views of their friends and family as the only "right" option.
Many people my age have completely removed themselves from politics, while others have adamantly called for change. Politics don't have to be the focal point of everyone's lives, but it is undeniable that the issues currently being debated will deeply affect the future of my generation and generations to come. No matter who you are, it is important that you stay involved, do your research, and cast your vote.
— Sydney Byun
Wilsonville High School
Form your own opinion
Since America's independence, adolescent education has been regarded as the "great equalizer of the conditions of men" and the statement has stayed relevant today. It's imperative for young people to be express the importance because of the credibility it gives their arguments and understanding of the social repercussions of their political beliefs. Kids are most greatly influenced by their parents in terms of political views because their lack of knowledge on the subject leads them to sponge in the values relayed to them from family members. As a result, they believe that those are their values as well and begin voicing their opinions. The issue with this is that those opinions aren't theirs. Any argument they make is empty and often extreme because they were never given an unbiased education to help them formulate their own values, they just took non-contextualized excerpts from various sources. Especially in high school, people tend to be very defensive about their developing identity and impulsively insult others when their beliefs are attacked because they don't have a logical response to back it up. But it was never really their position to justify. Being politically informed as a teenager is imperative because formulating opinions and being able to back them up while being wary of their social impact is an important skill that goes beyond politics. Being educated gives everyone an equal and justified say in society and defines what it truly means to be a democratic nation.
— Reem Alharithi
West Linn High School
Think of it like an exam
Here's something high schoolers know pretty well: the exam. The threat of failure hovers over our heads, constantly beckoning us to study relentlessly until we can recite the Quadratic Formula or the Preamble to the Constitution (think "We the People" from Schoolhouse Rock) in our sleep. We students know the process of preparation (or lack of it, for that matter). My point is: we know how to learn.
Politics — specifically the process of electing our representatives — is similar to an exam in the way that it requires us to research and ultimately engage. (Politics also, like an exam, evokes deep emotion, but that is beside the point). This investment in process is shown clearly in our national political trends. For example, Democrat voters failed to turn out substantially in the 2016 election, and President Donald Trump was elected. In repulsed fervor, Democrat voters not only responded with protest, but threw support behind local and state representatives to influence this past midterm election. As a result, they took control of the House.
The overwhelming investment that Democrats exemplified this November represents the intense preparation for the electoral "exam." They demonstrated reflective regret, research and awareness of rising candidates and their campaigns, and finally collective ambition toward change. Not only did this democracy parallel the high school exam in its requirement of intense preparation, but also in a widespread fear of failure. It was the combination of this fear and motivation that drove Democrats to strength in the polls.
In reality, the electoral process is not much unlike a typical high school test. So why should young people be hesitant to engage in politics?
As youth, we should not — we cannot — be afraid to learn the practices of politics. And as future constituents, we hold collective responsibility to learn about our local and national representation in order to amplify our voices. We know how to learn; we've taken these tests before. So let's embrace our skill in preparation to gain a sense of stake in political, economic and social advancement. Youth doesn't last forever. By acting early, we have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.
— Penelope Spurr
Lake Oswego High School
Teens can influence politics
Underage people not caring for politics is understandable because they are not allowed to vote. Even so, childhood goes by quickly. Before they know it, people become of age to vote. With that, they choose who controls the country. They have authority over politicians before politicians have authority over them. Besides that, knowing the politicians' backgrounds beforehand makes voting easier.
Although teenagers cannot vote, they can still influence politics. I know people my age who bring different perspectives to people who can vote. The same people who do that, talk about their views to larger audiences by planning marches and participating in class discussions. Personally, I find these people inspiring. Politics can be controversial and awkward to talk about, but I think people who express their opinions are brave. Moreover, I know my peers are changing the world. Along with being knowledgeable about politics, youth can bring fresh and necessary suggestions about what should happen in government.
Young people need to know about politics because one day they might be leaders. Through that, they will have direction over the country. They would have the ability to make the government more inclusive.
— Lily DeVine
Lake Oswego High School
Voting gives people a voice
To convey the importance of young people being involved in politics, I'll be discussing the importance of voting specifically, since it is pretty much the most accessible way of contributing to public affairs.
A study done by the Pew Research Center in June 2018 found that "Gen Xers and Millennials have consistently underperformed in terms of voter turnout in midterm elections, compared with Boomers when they were the same age." In other words, young Americans aren't voting as much as they used to. But political participation is essential to constructing a healthy political atmosphere, so it's imperative that young voters take advantage of their opportunities to contribute their opinions to the political landscape.
The good thing is that, based on my own experience, high school and college students are more invested in politics as a whole, especially about "hot button issues" that circulate quickly and forcefully. Perhaps it's because of social media. No matter the cause, I think that a substantial amount of enthusiasm is coming from young Americans. The trouble is harnessing that enthusiasm and directing it to the voting booths or ballot drop boxes.
Young voters are an incredibly diverse group, with varied interests and backgrounds. For our leaders to effectively represent the voices of their constituents, voters must be willing to opine who those leaders should be. The same goes for local legislation or ballot measures.
Your standpoint is surely different from that of your neighbors or of your friends. Although the side that you support might not prevail when results come in, what matters is that you contributed, and that your vote shows the variety of perspectives on an issue.
"Vote early, vote often." Habits and consistency are better formed at a younger age. A relationship with the political process means being able to expand that relationship to other forms of political participation in the future. All it takes to form this head-on connection is a trip to your local voting station.
Take advantage of the right to vote. Make a difference in the way that we live our lives.
— Andrea Yang
Lake Oswego High School
Being politically aware
I most definitely believe that youth should be politically aware. While many of us do not have the power to vote yet, it's good to really understand what's going on in the world and politics before reaching the age to vote. Politics quite literally shape the lives of an entire nation, and so the youth — the ones who will grow up to be the leaders and builders of the future — should be conscientious. After all, being informed on politics will not only lead to more educated decisions, but it will also drive the younger population to vote when they can.
It could just be the way I was raised, but I have seen that youth have become more politically aware (this is a good thing). But there are some caveats, too. I believe that the current political climate is clashing and unideal. While youth have become more politically active, there's a huge sense of division. It seems to be that whatever political stance you take, you are taking a side. If you're not on this side then you're on that side, and if we have the slightest difference in opinions, friendships are broken and there's a refusal to listen to the opposing side. At other times, there are those who are completely driven by emotions and act over the top. On social media, it's so easy to log on, spew anger and frustration, and then log out. Sure, I may agree with the beliefs this angry person has and share similar feelings of frustration, but what is there to gain through such a post? All in all, the name calling and fighting on the internet has no resolution. While it's good to call people out on opinions that may be morally wrong or discriminatory, I often see online arguments being reduced to insults instead of creating a dialogue. It's nearly impossible to change a person's mind if you're just making degrading comments toward each other. There's no resolution and honest points are never clearly conveyed.
So while I may not be as politically active as others, I am aware of what's going on in the world. I think it's normal and healthy for the youth to be on a spectrum in terms of political involvement. There'll be those who make campaigns and those who don't; those who have no interest and those who watch eagerly. But fundamentally, I think the most important thing for youth is to be aware of what's happening and be able to form level-headed opinions without getting all caught up in the highly-charged digital world.
— Olivia Weng
Lake Oswego High School
Make America's interests our interests
Ah, politics. The subject we all love to hate talking about. Political debates have become so vitriolic of late that I am reluctant to look at the news. I'm so tired of the bitter scuffles that characterize our government today. Indeed, I am not alone, for many of my friends and family express the same sentiments. Yet, can any of us — especially my friends and I, many of whom cannot even vote yet — afford to turn our backs on politics? In my opinion, the answer is clear: of course not. The policies implemented today will color our future and change the lives of millions of people within America and throughout the world. We, GenZ, cannot afford to say, "Why should I vote, when my vote doesn't even matter anyway? I can't make a difference." I am no authority on political science, but I do know one simple rule: the easiest way to influence the government's priorities is to vote. Politicians talk of appealing to suburban women, to minorities, to blue-collar areas. They almost never talk about appealing to young people because we do not vote. Admittedly, in this most recent midterm election, young people did mobilize, to some extent. According to a Tufts University survey, voter turnout this year amongst the 18-29 age group was 31 percent, a 10 percent increase from the last midterm election — but still far below the percentage of older age groups. Think of the power we would have if only we all bothered to check a few boxes on a ballot.
On the other hand, those of us under 18 cannot afford to say, "We can't even vote yet, so why bother getting involved?" Why? Because in one, two, three, five, 15 years, we as adults will inherit the leadership of America. As that transition occurs, we must know how and why to improve our country, and we can only have the power to do that if we have been making the country's interests our interests.
Our identity as Americans is not defined by our years, but by our desire to uphold those fundamental American values of compassion, tolerance, equality, loyalty and civic responsibility.
If we wish to hold American politics to that standard, we must plunge into it ourselves, whether by protesting, by campaigning, by writing, or even by simply forcing ourselves
to read the news every morning.
— Elena Lee
Lake Oswego High School