Vote@16 continued!

This update on prior blog of what’s happening around the country includes some heavyweights backing youth suffrage.

A new info-packed VOTE16USA report by Generation Citizen that is explicit on youth-driven campaigns.

RATIONALE: “Youth are affected by local political issues, including education funding, school board decisions, employment initiatives, police programs, and public works projects. They work without limits on hours and pay taxes on their income, can drive in most states, and in some cases, are tried in adult courts. Fifty-eight percent of youth participate in volunteer  activities, and many 16- and 17-year olds have been living in their communities for years and feel a deep connection to local issues.3 They deserve the right to vote on issues that affect them on the local level.”

YOUTH-LED: “The push to lower the voting age must be led by those we aim to enfranchise, and the voices of youth must be at the center of the public discourse on this issue… Media attention and interview requests should be directed toward young people working on local campaigns, while informal online initiatives (videos, blog posts, social media contests, etc.) can let other young people add their voices to the conversation. Generation Citizen has formed a Youth Advisory Board comprised of young people working on voting age campaigns around the country to begin to elevate young voices on the issue.”


  • Teenage Brain” expert Laurence Steinberg and  author of Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence.  “If science were an important consideration in setting the age of majority — as I think it should be — a reasonable starting point would be to distinguish between two sets of laws: those for activities that involve cold cognition and those for ones involving hot cognition. Cold cognition is relevant to matters such as voting or granting informed consent for medical procedures, for example. Adolescents can gather evidence, consult with others and take time before making a decision. Adolescents may make bad choices, but statistically speaking, they won’t make them any more often than adults. The last time we lowered the voting age in the United States was 1971. We’ve learned a lot about adolescence since then — enough that we should now lower the voting age to 16.” LA Times op-ed
  • U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) tweeted “I think the voting age should be lowered to 16. What do you think?” In an interview he says, “Sixteen-year-old students need to raise their voices. A lot of people beyond [them] could benefit from their vote.”
  • Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins, American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds are Ready to Vote. “American 16- and 17-year-olds ought to be allowed to vote in state and national elections. This claim rests upon a line of argument that begins with an exegesis of legal and philosophical notions of citizenship that identify core qualities of citizenship: membership, concern for rights, and participation in society. Each of these qualities is present in rudimentary form in childhood and adolescence. Analyses of national survey data demonstrate that by 16 years of age—but not before— American adolescents manifest levels of development in each quality of citizenship that are approximately the same as those apparent in young American adults who are allowed to vote. The lack of relevant differences in capacities for citizenship between 16- and 17-year-olds and those legally enfranchised makes current laws arbitrary, denying those younger than age 18 the right to vote. Awarding voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is important, given the changing age demographics in the country, which have resulted in the growing block of older voters displacing the interests of younger Americans in the political arena. Finally, the authors critically examine claims that adolescents are neither neurologically nor socially mature enough to vote responsibly and conclude that empirical evidence and fairness suggest that 16- and 17-year-olds ought to be awarded the vote.”  Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 63 (January 2011), pp. 201-221.
  • Gallup Poll.  “For over the past three decades, Americans have said the single most important purpose of public schooling was to prepare people to become responsible citizens.” Rose, L. C., & Gallup, A. M. (2000). The 32nd annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 82, 41-57.

For more details about past efforts, recent victories and ongoing campaigns to extend voting rights to 16-year-olds, check out Vote@16! Join the Debate

Want to get involved wherever you live?  Please let us know. Email 

Advocacy 101 Interactive 30-Minute Workshop

Looking for a way to introduce policy advocacy to young people who know they are rarely taken seriously by the powers-that-be? This fast-paced workshop resulted in high participation with 50 middle school students, and the second session generated even more discussion.

My Advocacy 101 workshop can be customized to concentrate on specific issues for different age groups and seamlessly incorporated as part of a longer training. Contact our national clearinghouse if we can help you identify relevant youth-led success stories or specific advocacy strategies.


Print out four sheets in a big font or make posters, each with one letter and definition. Tape each one in different sections of a room.

P = Publicity

E = Evidence

S = Support

T = Tenacity


Ask for two volunteers and tell them—without talking—to act out the one word in caps that is written on an index card and get people to guess it:  If you think you are too small to make a difference, you’ve never been in bed with a MOSQUITO.

Once the audience figures out the word, have one of the volunteers read the quote. Follow up on what young people know instinctively or from experience: their complaints are often ignored, demands dismissed, solutions discarded despite promises about the importance of ‘youth voice.’ (By the way, shouldn’t it be ‘voices’ since no one individual can ever speak for one age group.)

So how can you–especially if you are not of voting age–be seen and heard and respected by decision makers. It boils down to acting like a mosquito or a PEST!

Ask everyone to look around the room at four important elements needed to make an impact as a change agent.  For example, the ‘S’ in PEST could include…[invite answers such as friends, adult allies, organizations, school board members, legislators, etc.]

Here are a few true stories. Most of these youth-led initiatives were successful for several reasons but please decide which PEST factor seems the most critical. Once you choose, move to that corner of the room. Again, there are several correct answers. Once people are in four clusters, or perhaps fewer, invite each group to share with everyone why they chose that specific campaign element. Emphasize different PEST strategies and the interplay between each of these elements. [My PEST selection is noted at the end of each story.]

Sample Stories:
  • Many public schools in Baltimore needed repairs. Statistics and speeches about cracked ceilings, no heat, etc. failed to get the attention of decision-makers. A group of elementary, middle and high school students snapped 1,000 photographs documenting bad school conditions. Fifty of the pictures were selected for exhibits held in the city and also at the Maryland Statehouse. Legislators voted $100 Million increase for school repairs, due in part to this visual ‘photovoice’ project coordinated by Critical Exposure. [E = Evidence]
  • A youth-led coalition scored a big win getting a Student T Pass for Boston mass transit. Three years resulted in a major research report that documented the need for affordable transportation. Advocates organized sit-ins and grabbed the attention of state officials wearing “Mobili-T” and “Affordabili-T” superhero costumes. Youth activist Sakona Fitts claimed this 8-year-old victorious campaign shows “the power of youth.” [P = Publicity]
  • A group of 8th graders noticed their classmates had to walk in the grass along a busy road. They raised the issue with their state senator and he told them it was a county issue and  helped arrange a meeting with the local Planning Commission in Florida. It looked promising that money to build sidewalks could come from Safe Routes to School grant program but other projects pushed this one aside. So the students drafted a petition and collected over 500 signatures to pressure the County Commission. Four years later, these students attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for this $700,000 construction project that grew into a multipurpose pedestrian/bike path. [S = Support]
  • Middle and high school members of School Girls Unite, a global initiative of the Youth Activism Project, learned about Canadian youth who were pushing for an international day focused on gender equality and human rights for girls everywhere.  They decided to launch a parallel campaign in the U.S. and contacted hundreds of organizations getting official endorsements. They repeatedly pestered the White House Council on Women and Girls and eventually met with Presidential aides. Their nearly two-year mobilization helped persuade the U.S. government to co-sponsor the resolution that was approved by the United Nations General Assembly designating October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child.  [T = Tenacity]
  • Wrap up by inviting more discussion, for example, how to capture attention of mainstream media outlets as well as social media. This brainstorming can flow into developing a campaign strategy.
  • A lot of ideas can happen in this quick 30-minute Advocacy 101 workshop. For additional workshop modules, check out our toolkit titled Catalyst! Successful Strategies to Empower Young Advocates.

Vote@16: Join the Debate!

Immature, ignorant, uninformed are typical arguments against extending the right to vote to 16-year-olds. Regardless of age, you can vote on this issue that is gaining traction around the U.S. at (A more recent post highlights heavyweights expressing support, even at the national level.)

In January 2015, the San Francisco Youth Commission outlined the rationale in its six-page resolution, including this point:

San Francisco has an aging electorate and has increasingly been losing families over the last two decades. We need young people to be directly engaged in crafting solutions for our city. Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds will be a positive investment in their civic and political development as lifelong voters and engaged citizens. Our democracy is stronger when more people are at the table!

Ten years ago this student-run commission made the same recommendation but this time, SF Supervisor John Avalos introduced a Charter Amendment that would include city and county elections as well as school district elections. Extensive research by the Youth Commissioners was highlighted at this June 8th hearing. One high school student testified about “the trickle-up influence” on students’ parents, especially low-income immigrants, by encouraging them to vote. Although the sponsors have decided to delay action until next year, this ground-breaking proposal is far from dead. To get updates, follow Vote16SF

The SF Youth Commission has quite a track record, including its YouthVote Student Survey that is a serious instrument to get student input on current polices and issues. While this “youth voice” is valued, students who actually vote could expect real respect from school board members and other elected officials.

Legislation to lower the vote in Washington, DC was officially introduced on November 3, 2015. The bill’s lead champion, City Councilmember Charles Allen argued: “We are holding 16-year-old youth accountable for wide array of decisions and responsibilities, but we do not grant them a meaningful voice in these issues. The Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2015 aims to do just that – by lowering the voting age to 16, we can bring our young people directly into the political process and, hopefully, create lifelong voters.” For updates: Our CAPS Community Alliance for Peaceful Streets. Just outside of the nation’s capital, Representation for Rockville Teens in Maryland has launched a campaign.

In the first U.S. city to lower the voting age in Takoma Park, Maryland, overall turnout in the municipal election was 44 percent among youth and only 11 percent for older voters. In 2015, the city of Hyattsville, Maryland followed and voted unanimously. To watch young advocates testify at both of these city council hearings, click on the links under Voting at the Youth Activism Project’s Success Stories.

Missouri State Representative Karla May of St. Louis has introduced HJR16, the symbolically numbered resolution to amend the state constitution allowing 16-year-olds to vote in all state and local elections. At age 17, she was organizing “street teams…for candidates whom she believed had the best interest of the community.” Perhaps following the unprecedented effort in Ferguson to get African Americans to the polls, another reform in this city might be to extend voting rights to disenfranchised youth.

Youth suffrage in Missouri as well as a bill in the New Mexico legislature to allow 16-year-olds to vote in school board elections are expected to die. However, momentum could build, especially if a San Francisco referendum passes. Between now and then, learn more about the latest research as well as Brazil and several other countries where 16-year-olds vote.

This debate should be happening in every city in America. Let’s build off the work of SF Youth Commissioners!

“I am not a prop but part of a new generation of suffragists”

Madison Kimrey, 13, delivered this powerful speech at the Sept 13 Rally for the Equal Rights Amendment on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  Her compelling message gained added wallop as she got all of us to chime in with the refrain: “Forward together, not one step back!”  An earlier blog included this articulate activist and others who are not props or puppets and demand to be taken seriously by the powers-that-be. Madison succeeded!  

“Some of you might have heard of this thing we have back home in North Carolina called Moral Monday. Well, at Moral Monday, there’s a phrase we use a lot. It’s “Forward together, not one step back!”

What’s happening in North Carolina is important because what we’ve got going on down there is an unprecedented attack on women’s suffrage. Women make up 53 percent of our registered electorate back home. Out of all the voters who don’t have the ID required to vote in 2016 either because their photo ID doesn’t match the name on their voter registration card or because they don’t have a photo ID, 63 percent of those are women. 55 percent of the citizens who took advantage of early voting opportunities which have now been cut, including Sunday voting which was eliminated entirely, were women. 34 percent of African American women voters in 2012 used same day voter registration and – you guessed it- they cut that too.

And back home, it’s not like in other states, where if you show up to vote with an ID that doesn’t match your registration you can sign an affidavit like Wendy Davis did in Texas, provide alternate forms of ID, or vote with a provisional ballot. Nope. In North Carolina, you’re just out of luck. A lot of you are probably thinking, “Man, am I glad I don’t live there!” But the reason I’m talking about this today is because if it can happen back home, it can happen to you.

This is why in North Carolina we’re moving forward together and why we as a nation must move forward together, not one step back.

As we’re gathered here today, with the common goal of ensuring our rights cannot be denied or abridged on account of sex, we’re honoring a great legacy that began with the idea that, in the words of Susan B. Anthony, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”  Our fight for the Equal Rights Amendment and the need to preserve and protect our voting rights go hand in hand. And it’s hand in hand that we, together, will make sure that the people who work here, in OUR house, show through deeds, not just words, that they support legal and economic equality for all, the Equal Rights Amendment, and ballot access for all citizens.

It’s hand in hand that we will move forward together, not one step back.

When I stood up against the elimination of the pre-registration program in my state that got over 160,000 teenagers prepared to vote when they turned 18, my Governor called me a prop. It was at Moral Monday in my own hometown that I told him and my fellow citizens that I am not a prop, but part of a new generation of suffragists. Well, my vagina is not a prop either. I refuse to allow my lady parts to be used as an excuse to sell the fear and ignorance that leads to discrimination and policies that are intended to undo the progress made by the women who came before me.

It’s time for my fellow young women to decide what kind of legacy we wish to leave and start now to build the future in which we will lead. Our choice is clear. Will we continue to allow our fellow women to be told they’re out of luck or will we fight for the policies that will expand their choices and opportunities? Will we continue to allow elected representatives to respond to the concerns of women with a plate of cookies and a “god bless you” like Pat McCrory did in NC or will we demand our leaders be accountable to the people they were elected to serve? Will we continue to allow the choices of individual women to be judged or will we stand for the justice that will allow women an affordable education, equal pay, equal protection under the law, economic policies that make it possible for them to support families whether they choose to work or be stay at home moms, and the dignity of being able to make choices about their own health? The choices women will have tomorrow depend on the choices we make today.

A future of opportunity and justice demands that we move forward together, not one step back.

If we expect our representatives to support equality and the protection and expansion of access to the voting booth with their deeds, we must demand it with ours. Less than 30 percent of contributions to candidates are made by women. But if women voters gave just $5, it would be enough to run a female candidate in every House race and give them a budget of a million dollars each.

We can change the fact women only make up 17% of this Congress if we move forward together, not one step back.

We need to support voting reforms that can increase voter turnout such as online registration, same day registration, early and weekend voting, and pre-registration programs for our nation’s young people. And we need to make sure when laws are made to protect the integrity of our elections, the bills themselves are crafted with integrity and provide protections against disenfranchising voters.

The will of the people is equality and we can elect representatives who reflect the will of the people if we move forward together, not one step back.

Most importantly we can raise our voices and engage our fellow citizens. Women have the right to vote today because one lawmaker from Tennessee got a letter from his mother saying “Hurrah and vote for suffrage!” and he decided to vote yes on the 19th Amendment instead of no. The Equal Rights Amendment we fight for today was written by a woman who, as a girl, attended suffrage meetings with her mother in Moorestown, New Jersey. Make that phone call. Send that email. Use social media. Let your representatives and candidates know what you stand for and what you expect of them. Invite somebody to attend a meeting, an event, or volunteer opportunity.

By refusing to be silent and refusing to allow apathy and ambivalence to become ingrained in our society, we will move forward together, not one step back.

Alice Paul said, “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.” Some of you ladies have been plowing a long time. And it’s because of your work and the burdens that were borne by so many women who came before me that this girl from a small town in North Carolina that nobody’s ever heard of stands here today at our nation’s Capital ready to take up the reigns.

I can see the end of the row. At the end of the row is liberty, justice, and equality for all. And we WILL get there. We will get there by moving forward…forward…forward together, not one step back.”

FAQ: Can You Recommend a Youth to Speak at Our Conference?

Organizations contact our national clearinghouse when scouting for a keynote speaker or conference presenter. When reporters and TV producers call us, they tend to be very demanding in their search for a young person who’s changed a law and is a certain age, ethnicity, gender and lives in a particular city. One dilemma with these requests is it can result in singling out an activist in a campaign that can undermine the all-important group solidarity.

Several initial checkpoints kick off a search. We hope you will contribute other suggestions, including organizations and coalitions that concentrate on specific issue areas such as education, environment, foster care, health, juvenile justice, immigration, violence, etc.  If there are enough suggestions, we’ll start building a comprehensive list by issue.

  • What Kids Can Do compiles wire stories that can be searched by state or category.
  • Our Success Stories page features past youth-led policy campaigns but in many cases, the torch has been passed to younger people.
  • Youth media outlets such as Youth Radio in Oakland to Gandhi Brigade in the DC metro area document many local youth organizing efforts.
  • Youth researchers who have conducted surveys, analyzed the results and developed concrete policy recommendations are formidable experts, for example, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education.
  • Paid youth staff such as at Youth Empowered Solutions! in North Carolina and Jovenes SANOS in California who don’t need to be prepped to speak because they are the lead strategists in youth-driven campaigns.
  • Lobby days by Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy and other organizations have dozens of young advocates who are passionate and polished speakers.
  • Awards such as Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Youth Advocate of the Year also include regional winners.
  • Art and essay contests like the Richmond Peace Education Project recognize youth voices that often are invisible or overlooked.
  • Service learning and independent student projects have online forums for young people to showcase their work including the Constitutional Rights Foundation Civic Action Project.
  • Youth advisory councils from the mayor’s office to national organizations are worth checking out but keep in mind that these articulate students may be overly coached as ambassadors and spokespeople.

Please share your suggestions on how to discover young advocates in each city and state, including following Twitter #hashtags, YouTube channels, Pinterest, and other social media platforms.

In our age-segregated society, a dynamic speaker can vaporize stereotypes and transform attitudes about the influence and impact of young activists.

Preteens Arrested: Right or Wrong?

Seven children between the ages of 11 and 16 demanding immigration reform got arrested right near the U.S. Capitol. They sat on the wet pavement blocking traffic with their “Stop Separating Families” t-shirts and banners. After about 30 minutes, these protesters along with several older youth and family members were handcuffed and later released without being charged.

“Meet these Five Youth Heroes Who Made History Today” by Sarah English of the Center for Community Change will trigger accusations about children being used by adults. This Washington Post interview with 15-year-old Elias and fifth grader Yahir refutes that suggestion of manipulation. These boys have been yearning for years to be reunited with their dads. Before the D.C. protest, Brian, 13, said: “I am not nervous. I’m actually quite excited because it is my first experience actually doing something.”

Their act of civil disobedience was hardly impulsive. These Dreamers practiced and rehearsed different scenarios, even prepared for an overnight in jail. They knew history, including being inspired by the Birmingham Children’s March in 1963.

Even though many will dismiss these courageous children and assume advocacy groups choreographed this photo-op, there will be others who will shed their fear of “making waves” after learning about these youth who refuse to remain silent and in the shadows. Perhaps Elias and the other protestors will represent a turning point in this social justice struggle. Let’s hope Phillip Hoose might to write another book to pair with We Were There, Too!  Young People in U.S. History.

Look forward to your comments.

Platform for Global Activists & New Free Advocacy Toolkit

At age 15, Salathiel Ntakirutimana co-founded the Association of Burundian Orphans. “Like some of my friends, I had just lost both my parents during the civil war and I could not afford to pay for school materials and fees.” His organization succeeded in getting the President to decree that all orphans in Burundi would be allowed to go to school for free.  I met this soft-spoken activist, now a student at Harvard, at the 2015 Countdown Summit that focuses exclusively on achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to provide a primary school education for every child by next year.

Salathiel serves as one of 18 leaders on the Youth Advocacy Group (YAG) which is part of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative. Chernor Bah, a former refugee who founded Sierra Leone’s Children’s Forum Network and now has a Master’s Degree in Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame, is Chair of this international engine. The bios of the YAG members reveal a stunning breadth of accomplishments, including Jamira Burley who pressured policymakers to fund high school peer mediation programs and now is Executive Director for the City of Philadelphia’s Youth Commission.

Cynics might criticize the YAG as another photo-op scheme choreographed by adults but my sense is these deeply passionate and pragmatic education justice advocates would not be wasting their time. There seems to be sincere collegial rapport between YAG members and VIPs like Special UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown as well as high level staff like Plan International’s Global Advocacy Manager. Perhaps one reason is the YAG Chair is also the Youth Engagement Coordinator at A World at School. This full-time position means Chernor Bah is constantly in the loop—not just for periodic conference calls—which enables him to engage more YAG members in real time strategizing rather than rubberstamping.

Many organizations fail to invest in authentic youth-adult partnerships with shared decision making. Internships—even paid ones—maintain age segregation and power imbalance. Imagine what Chernor could accomplish if he had a team of youth on his staff, even high school students working virtually on a part-time basis.

Evidence of this successful multi-generational collaboration comes with the YAG releasing The Education We Want: An Advocacy Toolkit that is comprehensive in scope with success stories, research and power analysis strategies, sample action plans and press releases, organizing tactics, online campaigning, etc. This 130-page handbook is a free download. Not only is it great to have this #youthtoolkit but it’s imperative that young people—who make up more than half the population in many countries—are being recognized by adults as critical to solving major systemic problems.

P.S.  I have to mention our bilingual action guide written by School Girls Unite and our sister organization in Mali which would be a useful companion to this new YAG toolkit. Girls Gone Activist! How to Change the World through Education also is a free download.

Fizz Off! Young Voices Counter Coca-Cola & Soda Industry

Coca-Cola’s mission is “to refresh the world” and promote “open happiness.” The world’s number one beverage company boasts about its initiatives “to support active, healthy living” such as donating to youth fitness programs. Here are a few examples of young people who are questioning this sugar-coated thinking.

  • Truth Unfiltered, Flavored Lies is an award-winning spoken word and documentary produced by three high school students in Columbia, Maryland with the verdict: “Soda is the new cigarette.” 
  • P.H.A.T [Powerful, Healthy, Active, Teens] video by a reporter interviewed Youth Radio interns in Oakland, California to ask them about the amount of sugar in a can of soda and whether they might switch to water.
  • Saludable Omaha YouthPower leader Jessica in Nebraska believes people feel more “refreshed” without junk foods and “Change is gonna happen” because of the movement.
  •  Youth Empowered Solutions! 15-year-old Dylan Goodman is part of a multi-generational team  that’s exploring with store owners in Asheville, North Carolina a plan that includes positioning healthier foods near checkout registers instead of candy and sodas.
  •  Zane Middle School Health Club in Eureka, California conducted a photovoice project and learned from their student survey that many dislike the fountains because “the water is dirty and tastes bad.” Their research led them to propose hydration stations that dispense water into refillable bottles using infrared sensors.  The student plan won unanimous approval by school authorities and demand for water is up.
  • Kick the Can essay contest winner Shannon Segall of Davis, California writes “Since teens are the largest consumer demographic these companies are targeting, then it’s time to use that power — the power to make different buying and drinking decisions, while sending a message to beverage corporations that these aren’t the products we want.”

Let’s hope more young people will question the All-American facade of Coca-Cola and the soda industry . . .

  • Latino teens were exposed to 99% more soda ads and 80-90% more for African American youth than their white counterparts in 2010 than two years earlier.
  • Each year Coca-Cola provides $3 million for its College Scholars involving 250 high school seniors;  compare that with Coke’s $16 million to LeBron James or $35 million to sponsor American Idol.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America, National 4-H, Girls Inc., NAACP, American Diabetes Association are among hundreds of organizations that receive Coca-Cola charitable donations.
  • Philadelphia Children’s Hospital received a one-time $10 million donation from the American Beverage Association as part of its successful strategy to defeat a two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks projected to reduce consumption and raise over $18 million/per year in revenues for city health programs.

Please share with our national clearinghouse examples about being Fizzed Off!


Twitter:  YouthACTivism  @activism_wendy