The Turnout: Students participate in political process
Students participate in activism, political organizing in place of voter participation
December 12, 2018
Rigged system. Lame candidates. Political gridlock.
These are all reasons why young people say they often do not vote. In the past elections, voter turnout in Texas was in general and especially among young people, very low.
During the 2012 elections, only 46.9 percent of eligible voters had participated, ranking the state at 48th out of 50 states and D.C. During 2016, only about 51.2 percent of eligible voters participated, leaving the state in the same low ranking. During the 2014 midterm election, about 28.6 percent of Texans participated.
In addition to this, national voter turnout for the 18-24 year old demographic tends to garner similarly low numbers. In 2012, 38 percent of eligible voters in the age group voted. During the 2014 midterm election, the percentage more than halved to 15.9 percent. In the 2016 elections, the turnout rate was 39.4 percent.
Senior Michael Garcia, who is a member of the Austin corps internship, said that young people tend to not vote because they feel their vote doesn’t matter.
“Students don’t care because they think that the system is rigged,” Garcia said. “They think that one vote isn’t going to sway anything. They think that even if they do choose, all the candidates suck so it wouldn’t even be worth it and they stop caring.”
Austin Corps is an internship program that takes students from three high schools and teaches them to work in different city offices and how to get citizens involved in politics. Social studies teacher Linda O’Neal, who is the sponsor for Austin Corps, said she wanted to be an example to her students when she decided to run for Austin City Council this year “These internships help us to get real-life experience working with the government,” said Hailey Matteson, senior and Austin Corps intern.
In October, the organization partnered with the League of Women Voters to register eligible Akins seniors to vote. In addition to this, Austin Corps organized a mayoral candidate forum for students and community members to learn about the people looking to be the next leaders of city government.
“All of our events that we do are student planned,” Matteson said. “The mayoral forum was really cool. We got to have candidates come and have students learn about them.”
Senior Jordan Carlisle is registered to vote. He said that he was reluctant to vote because he felt uninformed, but thinks that it is important to do so.
“Everyone needs to vote because if we don’t then it would cause more problems in the long run,” Carlisle said.
Senior and Austin Corps intern Marissa Lugo said that being knowledgeable about politics is essential for newly eligible voters. She said that with knowledge comes a new interest in involvement and voting.
“You can’t really change anything if you don’t have the knowledge to,” Lugo said. ”You begin to get all this knowledge (about) what certain people do, such as the people in city council and the city manager, who actually does more than the mayor.”
This election, Travis County received record-breaking registration numbers. This year’s voter registration numbers were more than double the previous 2014 midterm election…
“The older generation is just getting older,” Evans said. “We’re the new phase of politics and I think it’s really important for us to show that. Whoever shows up to the ballot is who will be in charge.”
Garcia said that he advises new voters to vote for individuals who align with their beliefs and not be blinded by party lines. The “D” or “R” by a candidates name can be deceiving.
“Political parties are like a brand name,” Garcia said. “If one of the opposing candidates are better than the other, go for that one. Try to investigate what their actual point of view is.”
Evans said that voting is a vital power for young people to harness because it dictates their life going forward.
“It’s the future,” Evans said. “The future is in their hands and if they don’t vote then the future is not in their hands.”
Although it is the most direct way we can influence our government, voting is not the only way students can get involved in the political process. Many high school students were stirred into taking action in response to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in February.
Within the first 21 weeks of 2018, 23 school shootings had occurred which equates to roughly one shooting per week. Calls for new gun control laws were already highly debated but this mass rise of school shootings has pushed students to get involved because of the perceived lack of action by adults to take action to protect them.
All across the United States students walked out of classrooms in 2018 to protest gun violence. Akins was no exception to this. On February 26, Akins students organized a walkout in support of stricter gun control laws. This was only five days after Akins was forced into its own lockdown in response to death threats by a former student spotted on a school bus with ammunition.
Junior Elena Salinas was the lead organizer of the walkout.
Salinas’ first encounter with gun violence was a lockdown that happened in 2nd grade. The idea of it had been “pretty tame” until up to the Parkland shooting, she said. The whole shooting and the witnesses accounts really affected her, causing her to push for action.
Even two weeks after the Akins lockdown it still caused her such emotional trauma to the point that she felt anxiety from just hearing the intercom beep at unusual times. However, it also caused her to get more involved with her community.
Salinas’ had even spoken in front of a crowd of protestors at the Capital about gun violence. When asked about her preparation, she said it was very last minute. She had the intention of putting out some kind of message out there, and while knowing it was very irresponsible of her to wait until the last moment to work on it, she felt like the buildup to it was very worth it.
She expressed her experience with the lockdown here, and how it had affected her.
Another topic she discussed was her solution to the problem, was to show “kindness and empathy” to all sides — the victims and even the perpetrators who often are experiencing mental instability.
When hearing about gun violence as a whole, she says that
She says that we should take precautions and show empathy to everyone around us, no matter how they look, and what they say, and how they make you feel. No matter how they uncomfortable they make you feel.
“The one thing I see in common with everyone is they need attention… and someone to listen, and understand them,” Salinas said.
Politically, Salinas feels like our politicians are “lobbied” by special interests and that’s why they don’t do anything about gun violence. She said she believes they do not take action because of the money they receive from these special interest groups.
“We as students have substantially less control over our politicians, and country because (not all of us) can vote,” she said.
She finds the ones who don’t want us to be heard, came up with these laws in the first place.
“If students know about it, they can vote about it,” Salinas said.
Many school-aged students have been stirred to action after the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, and his subsequent actions affecting undocumented students.
In 2017, President Donald Trump planned to get rid of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is an Obama Administration era program that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented children in the United States. It allowed these students to enroll in a college, and legally have jobs which were renewable for a two year period. By getting rid of this program, Trump had nearly jeopardized the lives of over 700,000 undocumented individuals.
The response was a massive uproar of young people. Not only were lawsuits filed by many organizations, but the citizens themselves, right down to the high school level, were strenuously protesting and finding ways, socially, to show their objection of the Trump Administration in defense of DACA.
All across Texas, just as in protests to gun violence, students walked out of classrooms in order to protest for the protection DREAMers, including at Akins High School. Members of the University of Texas-based University Leadership Initiative, an organization that advocates for undocumented students, were among the college-aged students who led the protests.
College and Career Center Counselor Sarah Simmons said that when she spoke to students about what to do if their DACA protection is lost, she encouraged action.
“We will protest,” Simmons said. “We will vote in politicians who will fight for the rights of vulnerable individuals. We will not remain quiet. We will use the courts in any way possible.”
The cries of the people and the opinions of fellow politicians made Trump’s decision and own opinions wavering and unsteady. Eventually, in April of 2017, the U.S. court ordered the Trump administration to fully reinstate the DACA program. Though the program itself may be in an uncertain and frozen state, its continued presence is due to action on the part of American activists and lawyer.
“For five years, the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), working with allies such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Texas Organizing Project, has led the fight to boost compliance with a Texas law that requires every public and private high school in the state to distribute voter registration applications to eligible students at least twice each school year. Enacted in 1985, that law has the potential to make Texas a leader in youth registration and turnout.” – 2018 High School Voter Registration Compliance Report
“Instead, as TCRP’s (Texas Civil Rights Project) research has repeatedly made clear, most recently in a report it published in September 2017 and now in this updated report, compliance by high schools with the law has been abysmal.” – 2018 High School Voter Registration Compliance Report
“At a minimum, therefore, two-thirds of Texas public high schools, with 183,421 seniors, continue to fail to take the first basic step in complying with the high school voter registration law: requesting forms from the Secretary of State. As a result, hundreds of thousands of eligible young voters may be missing the chance to register to vote.” – 2018 High School Voter Registration Compliance-Report
“The (mayoral) forum was really cool. We got to have candidates come and have students learn about the candidates. All of our events that we do are student planned. We also planned the student registration where we got all of the eligible seniors to register to vote, everybody who is above the age of eighteen who attends Akins High School, if they wanted to be. Because our own teacher is running for District 9 council member, we work with her platform. Thing like advertisements, a video project that we’re doing. We do a lot of projects. We’re doing a project right now for Speak Up, Speak Out. We’re trying to make people more aware of student homelessness. This is really a project based and learning based course where we’re learning about real life things, real-life entities and going and trying to make it about saving the world and saving our future generations.”
“Before this class, I didn’t want to have anything to do with politics but now, because of this class, I want to be involved in politics. If you’re a politically motivated person this would be a good internship for you.”
“It was the first field trip where we went to meet the mayor. We learned about all the different policies that he was trying to get put into place for the city and we were learning about our district council members. It was really that conversation with the mayor, talking to him, seeing what he wanted to do for our city and then realizing that there are things that I wanted to do for the city. Things that I want to do to really help people and get involved. Politics is a really good way to do that.”
“The AustinCorps takes students to Austin government departments so we can get a good understanding of how the city works. By the second semester, we will choose our three favorite departments and will enter with one of them.”
“It all started with the twenty-six in the election. That’s when I started to realize our voices should be heard. At first was ‘Ugh! Politics,’ but after the twenty-six in the election, you could see how much division and damage it has caused to the American society. It starts with teenagers and younger generations because we’re starting to get to vote after we graduate, and it’s so sudden, and the older generation is just getting older and was basically the new phase of politics and I think it’s really important for us to show that. Whoever shows up to the valid is who will be in charge. ”
“Students don’t care because they think that the system is rigged, they think that one vote isn’t going to sway anything, they think that even if they do choose, all the candidates suck so it wouldn’t even be worth it and they stop caring.” Another factor is time because they don’t feel like they have an obligation to vote so they don’t do it.
“Choose your candidates carefully. Don’t go with political parties.” For example: if you support the democratic party, but you see a Republican that has your views and does a better job than the Democratic candidates then, as (last name) said, “go for it. Political parties are like a brand name, if one of the opposition candidates are better than the other, go for that one. Try to investigate what their actual point of view is,” as stated before, don’t just analyze a favored side when the other, probably, has just as good of a reserve.
“I joined because it seemed like a good opportunity to learn about government. That’s an interest of mine.”
“I think students don’t care because it’s a hassle in their eyes to sign up to vote and to actually go vote and, I guess, they’re kind of just lazy.”
“It’s the future. The future is in their hands and if they don’t vote then the future is not in their hands. They’re giving away their power.”
“Vote Linda O’Neil, district nine, November 6!”
“AustinCorps teaches you about government. They give opportunities after high school like scholarships, retirement benefits such as medical care, dental care.”
“I think students should care politically because that’s them in every aspect of their life. For instance, if they wanted to vote on who they want in their district, the people that are going to help them are them. If they want to vote for a specific person who has the same views, that has the same specific wants as they do, they should support them.”
“AustinCorps is not only something that helps in the future, but it’s also something that helps you now. As a senior, most people turn eighteen in their senior year, that’s when you can vote and that’s when you begin to get all this knowledge to know what certain people do, such as the people in the city council, the city manager who actually does more than the mayor.”.
Jordan Wayne Carlisle:
“Because my teacher said that we need a lot more people to vote and if only people with one specific political affiliation vote then, obviously, it would benefit only that one party.”
didn’t want to vote “because this would be my first time voting and I don’t one hundred percent understand what I’m doing at this moment. I also didn’t know who to vote for because I didn’t have enough information.”