Let the Teens Vote

Let's stop kidding ourselves and our kids: it's time to lower the voting age to 16

A Philadelphia Citizen feature

presented by Reality Check on WURD, airs Monday - Thursday, 4-7pm ET, streamed live at WURDradio.com, in Philly on 96.1 FM / 900 AM | #RealityCheck @ellisonreport

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by Charles Ellison | #RealityCheck WURD | @ellisonreport

In January, when teachers in Los Angeles went on strike, Tyler Okeke — the 17-year-old nonvoting member of the LA Unified School District school board — noticed something that disturbed him for months afterward: the teachers union, charter school supporters and others who fund elections got all of the attention. No one seemed interested in the needs of students.

So on Tuesday, Okeke proposed something that could change LA politics for generations to come: Lowering the voting age to 16 for school board elections. His fellow board members unanimously approved a resolution directing the superintendent to explore the possibility for 2020.

That puts Los Angeles in line with Berkeley, where 16-year-olds already elect school board members, and with other towns and even states around the county that are lowering the voting age to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to cast a ballot.

Just imagine if Philly had something like that.

Twenty-two percent of Philadelphia’s population is under 18, while over 32 percent of the resident’s living in high poverty are also under 18. Many are also Philadelphia public school students, nearly all of them eligible for school breakfast and lunch programs under constant threat from federal cutbacks, and often forced to languish in school buildings that are environmentally toxic, with no remediation in site.  

Meanwhile, two-thirds of those under 18 can’t read at grade level, leading to a situation whereby a quarter of Philly adults are functionally illiterate. About 80 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds are unemployed, 11 percent are not in school and not working and 41 percent live in households that have unemployed parents. At one point, public interest law firm Phillips Black discovered Philadelphia, by itself, houses 9 percent of the nation’s juvenile prison-lifer population. And with the city homicide rate rising, 15- to 17-year-old Philly residents represented 20 percent of all shooting victims from 2015 to so far in 2019, about 8 percent of those in 2019 alone so far.  

On top of all that, climate change will have Philly temperatures feeling like Memphis, Tennessee, by 2080, one among a long list of climate-driven concerns that’s absolutely mortifying “Generation Z” as well as the ongoing threat of mass school shootings, two issues that have under-18 teens pouring out of classrooms and into the streets.

And when they reach the end of the marching road they realize the best they can do is yell and scream because, at the moment, they can’t vote. Imagine how disheartening that can be at this pivotal moment in our city’s history, which is caught up in this very dangerous and uncertain national moment we’re all living through. All the more reason to lower the voting age to 16, before society loses that fierce mobilizing energy for change and another generation of young people become too jaded and depressed to do anything about the future that faces them.

Read the rest HERE at The Philadelphia Citizen

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