A friend and I are educating fellow teens about the importance of races up and down the ballot.
In June, a teacher at my school organized a Zoom workshop in an effort to get high school students to register to vote in this year’s election. I expected the Zoom room to be overflowing with students, but only about 10 showed up. I couldn’t understand why more students didn’t care about voting with such an important election approaching.
I texted some of my friends afterwards to ask them why they didn’t come. They said it was because their vote didn’t matter; and at that moment, I didn’t have a response. I felt frustrated and angry. How could someone’s vote in a democratic country not matter?
So a friend and I began to research the voting system in America: how it works, who has power, and whether or not my friends were right.
We spent the summer analyzing past American elections, learning about local politics, the voting process, and the role of the Electoral College.
We found that many young people like my friends are misinformed about young people’s voting power. In fact, people born after 1980 total 166 million as of July 2019, or 50.7% of the nation’s population, according to the Brookings Institution.
So my friend and I did our research, mostly on local government websites, and we designed a new workshop for this fall that focuses on the dynamics of political power, the power of one’s vote, and how voting impacts our lives. We scheduled Zooms to share and compare information we gathered. Our presentations included short videos to maximize engagement. Teachers let us present the workshops in their advisories.
In developing this workshop, I turned the frustration I felt when so few students showed up to the June Zoom on voting, and I used it to educate those around me. We got high school seniors who are eligible to vote in November to register, and we have begun pre-registering those just below the age of 18 for 2021 elections.
One main aspect of the workshop is informing teens that elections are not just about voting for the president. A friend of mine told me they weren’t going to vote for president this year because they would be picking between the lesser of two evils. But not voting at all also means you’re not voting for state and local politicians — the very people who make many of the decisions that affect our daily lives.
In addition to voting for the president, and for U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives, who pass federal legislation (like Obamacare and COVID-19 relief), there are state and local positions that matter all the way down the ballot. For example, the New York state Senate passed a version of the DREAM Act, which made undocumented immigrants eligible for tuition assistance, and has passed aggressive climate legislation.
Next year in New York City, there will be elections for mayor, City Council, and borough presidents. These officials also draft and pass legislation that may affect everything from how schools and public hospitals are funded, to whether roads are repaved, to what the city’s minimum wage is, among many other consequential decisions.
With the effects of the coronavirus pandemic felt throughout the city, the decisions made at the local level will be even more crucial in the coming year.
As citizens, we have the power to elect people who will listen to us. We need every politician at every level of government to listen to us, because it’s their job to represent all of our interests. That includes us young people, people of color, immigrants, working-class New Yorkers, low-income communities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. No one can be left out. I am tired of seeing communities pushed aside.
Problems don’t get magically solved after an election — presidential or otherwise. The fight for a more just world will continue. But with the power of our vote, we can continue to participate in our democracy. I am not yet old enough to vote, so I need those who are to go to the polls. As for me, I’ll see you all there next year.
Luna Azcurrain is a senior at East Side Community High School on the Lower East Side.
A version of this essay originally appeared in YCteen.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
This article was initially published at Chalkbeat