By Ella Stoneman and Adam Rainbolt
As we begin to move out of election season, the United States is going through an intensely political time. Despite a historical trend of youth voter turnout being relatively low compared to other age demographics, this past election featured the nation’s youths voter turnout at an all time high, with 63% of youth voters saying they would definitely vote compared to 47% in 2016 according to NPR. Gen Z has consistently proved themselves to be willing to involve themselves in political affairs, participating in marches and protests across the nation. This is despite the fact that there may be a feeling among many high school students that politics doesn’t concern them. Rather than politics feeling too abstract and distant to have been of any real significance to the nation’s young people, our generation has proved that we are willing and capable of becoming a part of the American political story.
An anonymous survey taken by 34 Morro Bay High School students confirmed that the generational trend towards political involvement has reached MBHS. Of the responses, over 75% claimed that they seek out information related to politics. Furthermore, the majority claimed that they consider their involvement in politics as a 4 out of 5, with the average score being a 3.38 out of 5. Students were less optimistic about how much their voice matters to US Politics, with ratings having an average of 2.47 out of 5 and the majority being a 3 out of 5.
Finally, students were asked about which political issues they are most concerned with. The three most selected issues were “Education,” “Environmental Protection” and “Gun Control,” which were selected by 58 to 73% of responders. Some students also called out other issues which were not one of the preselected options, including racial justice, abortion, and LGBTQ+ rights. Clearly, MBHS students, like American youths across the world, have strong feelings about political issues.
There are serious reasons for Generation Z to both learn about and participate in the political landscape. Students will be more heavily impacted by decisions made today than almost any other demographic. From climate change to COVID-19 response, there are numerous areas of policy that could have dramatic effects on students’ lives, either today or far into their future. As a particularly relevant example, the life terms of Supreme Court justices means that the recent appointments of justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett will have ramifications for decades, not to mention that precedents set in courts could remain important for even longer.
That being said, it is not always easy for students to involve themselves in politics. One student in the anonymous survey expressed the frustrations that are shared by many members of our generation, saying that they feel that they “can’t do or say anything as a female high school student without being silenced by whoever.” Students who are not old enough to vote may struggle to find a way to make their voices heard. Fortunately, governments have multiple access points. For those who want to be as actively involved as possible, finding and joining local protests (in a safe way, of course) may be a good way to share their opinions and work to sway policy. Further, a citizen’s youthfulness can be a powerful tool. When contacting local officials directly, a teenager has a much better chance of making an impact simply by being a part of a generation that is surging in political importance as young people from Greta Thunberg to David Hogg have become the face of movements.
For those who are not drawn to direct action, the most important thing they can do is to simply pay attention and educate themselves. Stay informed on current events and, more importantly, what those events mean. Learning about issues is a fundamental part of challenging or validating opinions to ensure that they are well-supported.
A key way for students to prepare for their future as civil citizens is to become familiar with local politics, which often receive far less attention than federal elections. For instance, students can learn if their city has mayoral elections, familiarize themselves with the Proposition system, and learn about their federal representatives. During their education process, students who are 16 years or older can pre-register to vote.
The actions of the current elected officials are important, they affect the community we are part of. Students have to pay attention to what is currently happening especially with our local politics and elected officials because students will be able to vote on whether to reelect them or not in a couple years. It’s easier to form an opinion on the local politics and elected officials when you know what they stand for and have already accomplished. It might feel far away, but if high school students are paying attention to politics now, they might have a clearer choice of who they want to vote for four years from now at the next election and what issues they want to learn more about and decide for themselves what they can do to make a difference.