By San Diego Community Fellow Janice Luna Reynoso
Fewer youth of color are participating at the polls than ever. In November of the 2014 general election, only 8.2 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18-24 voted. That year in California, Latino turnout was 17.3 percent and Asian-American was 18.4 percent. In most local, state, and national elections, there has been a decrease in the respective youth’s participation. With the many disparities that our youth of color are facing, how do we get them to want to vote and how do we make it accessible? Policy can be changed and their voices and those of their families can be heard if they cast their votes.
The best chance we have is to get more youth involved overall in a local level even while they are too young to vote. In communities of color in San Diego, California we are seeing youth leadership programs help develop these future leaders and voters as young as third grade. With the youth taking action and addressing the problems that are affecting them and their communities these youth are empowered to be the change. Volunteer opportunities for them to give back bring them full circle. As volunteers, youth are clients of the community based organizations that serve them, but they also see how they themselves can address needs just outside the doors of their headquarters.
Now is the time for all sectors to reach out to these young leaders to get their input for their programs but also to contribute as future voters and propel civic engagement. Communities of Excellence can help in sharing these findings by bringing everyone to the table who needs to be. We should include multigenerational dialogue of the non voting residents, who may very well be the parents or grandparents of the non voting youth. When we think of civic engagement, many of us think of the age of 18 as we hope responsible youth will vote at the polls. It has to start sooner than that as they can speak at city council where there is no age requirement, or they can participate in a community assessment or help facilitate them.
When we consider voting to be the only solution to our issues, that is a problem in itself. I think the youth know that and are discouraged by it. With direction from mentors and those who advocate for youth there can be a harmony of the different channels it takes to create change including their vote. There is so much work to do on the ground and who has the time and energy to do it more than our young people?
Those leaning toward social justice issues may “like” and share, which seriously only takes the click of a button, but will they act? It is possible that the youth think just talking or posting such concerns will make change. We need to make civic engagement and youth leadership just as easy to find with actionable items based on the needs of their communities. Either way we will hear their voices - from the struggles they will endure if they choose apathy, or even better from the path they will pave for future generations if they are empowered to vote.