On Our Mind: Young Voices

We often hear about the importance of the youth vote.  If all voters under the age of 30 turned out to vote in the 2020 elections, they would be the largest single voting block in the country - representing almost 40% of the voting population.

But what about the young Americans who will be under 18 in November 2020? Unable to use their vote to voice their opinions, their priorities, and their demands of our political leaders regarding the issues that face us all now, and that will continue to face them in the future, what is the platform for their voices to be heard? Activists like David Hogg (#MarchForOurLives) and Greta Thunberg (#FridaysForFuture) have already shown us the power of young voices. They have used the urgency of the moment to create awareness of and to motivate adults to take action on the issues that matter most to them.

We are lucky to have a young activist here in France, Caroline Wagner, who reached out to DA France to get more involved and to create her platform as a young American living abroad.

Here are some of her thoughts, in her own words...

Young voices matter. Kids and teenagers are passionate about the problems that they see, yet that passion quickly fizzles when they realize they’re being ignored. When young people are talked over, they’re – we’re – taught that our voices and our problems do not matter. People say, “think of the children,” but we are being forced to think for ourselves. We are faced with problems that we did not cause but that we must now encounter and solve.

People my age are faced with so much. But we need to think of these problems not as “young people’s problems” but as human problems – because that’s what they are. 

I know a shooting survivor. 

I know a gay girl who can’t tell her dad who she is, or she’ll be kicked out of the house, whose girlfriend won’t be seen in public with her, who had rocks thrown at her for being gay, and then was told by her school, “You probably deserved it.” 

I know a girl whose self-esteem is in tatters. She desperately needs help, but she won’t reach out to someone who can actually help her because of the stigma surrounding mental health. 

I know a girl who cuts herself because she has no control over her life or the world that she lives in. 

I know a girl who watches protests in fear instead of joining in because she thinks her voice matters so little that the danger outweighs the necessity. 

I live in a world with sky-high emissions which could and should have been addressed decades ago. 

These are not “young people’s” problems. They are universal problems. 

If you tell kids they don’t matter, they will believe it. If you don’t listen to kids, they will not speak. I am lucky that the adults in my life believe in me. I am lucky that my teachers show me what I can do, tell me how I can get involved, believe in my voice. My story could easily have been one like my friends’. This is what I was saying LAST MAY:

“I hate this feeling of ‘something must be done’ but I can’t do anything.”

“My voice is quiet at best, so what I say won’t change anything, and there’s something inside me that says, ‘Hey, that assignment you’ve been putting off for days is really more important,’ and ‘There’s so much to do; is writing a letter to the editor really the best use of my time?’”

“I want to make a difference. I want to be that person who calls politicians. But who’s going to listen to me? I’m 16, I’ve never lived in the US, I’m not informed enough, and I can’t become informed enough.”

This is what I am saying NOW: There’s a presidential election coming up. I will be too young to vote in it as will most of my friends. But we still have needs, problems, ideas, and the desire to help. The problems we have aren’t being put on hold until we’re old enough to deal with them. They’re hitting us now. Legislation could be passed, actions could be taken, our problems could be solved. But we are being ignored. 

So, I come to you with a request: Listen to the young people. Make room for us at the table. We care, we want to help, to make a difference. Let us. Don’t quash our voices. Amplify them.  Either do your jobs as adults and fix these problems for us, or provide us with a platform to fix them ourselves.

About the author: Caroline Wagner in 17. She was born in France, where she lived for eight years, then lived in Shanghai for eight years, and has recently moved back to France.  She has been home-schooled for the past seven years.  In the 2022 mid-term elections, she will vote in the state of Pennsylvania.

We welcome the engagement of young Americans in our activities, whether they are current or future voters.  The DA France Youth Caucus is the voice of young Dems in France.  If you (or someone you know) would like to know more about their activities, you can contact the caucus leaders at youth@democratsabroad.fr. To know more about their upcoming events, you can also visit their Facebook page.