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  • Tiago Costa

After March for Our Lives, should the American society consider giving these kids the right to vote?

“The voters are coming. … Today is the beginning of a bright new future for this country.”

And nothing would be the same. Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and founder of the movement Never Again, would be the first young voice to take the stage of the very promising March For Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.

Kasky, his fellow friends from Parkland, and many other young American activists took that stage and spoke in name of a better future. They are becoming the leaders that this society needs, and they are assuming responsibilities that many adults can’t take care of. They are not asking for a change, they are demanding. And until they have it, they will not stop. Thus, while seeing the youths speaking up the way they are, a question emerge: What is the state of the youth rights to vote in the American society?

Washington, D.C., has been a tremendous stage for many important political and social speeches in the American history. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to Congress and claimed war against Japan after the Pearl Harbor attacks. In 1961, John F. Kennedy had been elected to the office and performed what is considered the most famous presidential inaugural speech ever. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. said loudly “I have a dream,” while facing the American segregation.

Being one of the most recognizable symbols of the American democracy, the U.S. Capitol is

home for the American Congress. Photograph by Kendall Hoopes.

Many of these most famous speeches have the same principle: “enough is enough,” a change is needed and this change starts today. The only thing that was different in the March For Our Lives’ speeches, was that instead of a singular person, there were a group of young people who showed, and are showing, that unity and a extreme determination are crucial to change something.

In fact, it’s surreal. To think that young children will lose their life in a school’s hall, while on their way to the classroom and while carrying their backpacks full of books. It can’t be real. Schools were created to promote the learning of fundamental life principles. It’s at the schools that the future is prepared, and this is a space where the youth should feel engaged to learn, and not worried about bullets.

Mass shootings at schools are hard to understand, but normally the resulting story is similar. Alia Wong characterizes these events as a “theater’s play” composed by three acts. In Act I, the nation is informed about the shooting and people get shocked about the losses. In Act II, the nation debates the event. Here, many arguments are directed to the opposition, and these are normally gun-control advocates against gun-freedom supporters, or vice-versa. In Act III, unfortunately the nation forgets about what happened. Almost anything is changed, and everyone move on until the next time.

But the youths of Parkland are making it different. They raised awareness. And as a result, many powerful people are supporting their call to action. First, it was George Clooney and his wife who donated half million dollars to March For Our Lives. Then, Steven Spielberg, Gucci and Oprah Winfrey donated the same amount. By the time of the march, over 40,000 people helped raising about three and half million dollars for March for Our Lives and over 800 events were planned to happen worldwide.

Their movement is being recognized, but not only the movement. Their clear mindsets and driven personalities are somehow more important and let’s say, a reflection of a completely different younger generation. They represent a generation that grew up in the middle of an infinite social media network, where tons of information are making these youths grow up faster than many adults expected.

Young students protest gun reforms in Washington, D.C. Right after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the organization Teens For Gun Reform, organized a protest to demand more gun reforms. Photography by Lorie Shaull.

In Kansas, youths were stopped by adults from running for a statewide office when the Wichita high school junior Jack Bergeson, with 17-year-old, discovered a loophole in the state’s electoral law. Christine Yared, a 15-year-old freshman from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wrote an emotional opinion article for The New York Times addressing what she lived during the Parkland’s shooting and her visions for future. At the March For Our Lives event in D.C., Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old elementary school student from Virginia, addressed the lack of equality among black women victims. And even the Martin Luther King’s granddaughter Yolanda Renee King, with only 9-year-old, addressed the nation at March For Our Lives to say “enough is enough.”

Although many young people are showing they are capable to assume tasks that were normally took by adults, the debate around childhood and adulthood is still dividing American people. In the majority of the countries, the line is drawn in the 18-year-old. However, the United States is one of the countries with a bigger ambiguity. The American youth is allowed to drive at 16-year-old, as well as to marry in many states, and sign contracts with their parent’s consent. However, these same youths don’t vote, pay taxes, buy cigarettes, buy guns or even watch pornography not until they turn 18. This reality is then confronted with a restriction to drink alcohol or smoke weed not before they turn 21, and to rent a car not until they turn 25-year-old. In this fight of numbers, maturity is placed in an unclear position.

Truth is, every time a national election takes place in the United States, about 8 million Americans with ages of 16 and 17-year-old are not allowed to vote. Some people argue that youths don’t have their brains fully developed in early age, and that they are innocent and inexperienced. This argument generally claims that young people are impulsive and use hot cognition in order of taking decisions.

Hot cognitive people make decisions upon an emotional state of mind. Hot cognitive thinking can be also identified as the “System 1” process of thinking claimed by Dr. Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist awarded with Nobel Memorial Prize in 2002. For Dr. Kahneman, people in System 1 have a faster process of thinking; this is a lot of times automatic, intuitive and involuntary. People in System 1 have better changes to make mistakes, but System 1 doesn’t mean mistakes just by itself. The ideal is to add System 2, or cold cognition, to create a mental balance that is important upon important decisions. Cold cognitive people are those who have the tools to take rational and deliberative decisions. And as far as the political elections go, voters need cold cognition.

The question is: Are young people really attached to hot cognition, being that a legit reason to not lower the voting age? According to a study name “Childhood Skill Development and Adult Political Participation,” by Brigham Young University professor John B. Holbein, and published in the American Political Science Review, children who are taught to develop their “ability to self-regulate and integrate social settings” are shown to be more likely to be active political advocates.

Although it’s hard to answer the question with a precise factual data, there are already several examples showing that lowering the voting age from 18 to 16-year-old can be beneficial if students have the resources to be informed and take a deliberative decision. According to a study, young voters with 16 and 17-year-old are surprisingly changing the political reality in the city of Takoma Park, Maryland, after this city had been the first American city to lower the voting age from 18 to 16-year-old. In the 2013 elections, after the city changed the law, 44% of people with age of 16 and 17-year-old voted, and only 11% of the rest of the eligible voters above 18-year-old participated. In the 2015 election, the number increased even more. About 45% of the people with ages of 16 and 17-year-old voted, and 21% of the rest of the eligible voters above 18-year-old participated in the city’s elections. Lowering the voting age, made many young people became active in local politics, however it will take several years to understand the results of lowering the voting age, the study says.

Illustration by Serena May Illescas.

Youths are challenging the stereotypes today more than possibly ever before. Right after Emma González stepped the stage of March for Our Lives in D.C., the social media went crazy with a speech that involved time, silence, tears and a call to action. "Fight for your life before it’s somebody else’s job," Emma said. Emma is one of the most popular young leaders after the Parkland shooting. She is known by the “We call B.S.” statement that now many people use to protest politicians.

The will of these young leaders is changing and will change the reality of the American society. TIME Magazine, for example, which got a great prestige throughout the American history as a result of challenging reports during around hundred years of existence, just recently recognized the Never Again movement with a cover on its April’s edition. The cover includes a portrait of some of the most important group leaders such as Emma González, Jaclyn Corin, Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind and David Hogg, and a big “ENOUGH.” lettering on top of them. Journalist Charlotte Alter, from TIME, says about the movement that it “may turn out to be the most powerful grassroots gun-reform movement in nearly two decades.” Leaving a question that only the time will answer: “Can these kids actually do it?”

Although the fight of this group is mostly related to gun-reform, for obvious reasons of their proximity to the event of Parkland, the movement that is being started now may be expanded to other topics of the society and soon the audience will see some of these young leaders debating all types of important issues. No matter which side are you in the perspective of a better society, it’s a common sense that all citizens should work together to turn this society in a better place to live. Thus, if one of the most important rights as a citizen is the right to vote and these young people with 16 or 17-year-old don’t have that basic right; they may feel citizens with less rights than those who accomplished the right.

These young leaders are here to stay, and they will not go anywhere until they get what they want. One of them is David Hogg. From being accused of being an actor, to being rejected by top American universities, the 17-year-old survivor from Parkland appealed a massive vote to take out those politicians who receive money from the NRA. To more than 200,000 people who attended the March for Our Lives in D.C., Hogg said, “[When] there are people who stand against you because you’re too young, we say: No more. … They will try to separate us. … They will fail.”


The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated [almost] every Sunday.

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