Hope for the Disenfranchised?
America is a representative democracy. That means that it is a system of government based on the indirect participation of its eligible population through their elected representatives. In this country that eligibility begins when one turns 18 years old. That is when citizens are given the right to vote, become enfranchised, and take part in the process that determines the policies and procedures that often directly affect the nation’s economy, political direction and human rights.
With so much at stake, 18 would seem to be a fairly arbitrary age limit. For instance, why 18 and not 16? After all one can legally drive at 16, which is a huge responsibility and one with seemingly more significant and potentially immediate life or death consequences. Furthermore 18 seems to be a bit of a “cliff” as if, to continue using the comparison with driving, one were to just hand a 16 year old the keys to a car with no driving lessons or chances to practice their new privileges and just unleashing them on the public.
What I am getting at here is that no one just magically acquires the judgment to exercise their representative democracy rights on the day that they turn 18. Therefore, I think that High School political clubs are a crucial step to preparing to be an active and informed participant in your country’s government. Political clubs can offer valuable and important educational opportunities to both the high school itself and its students by allowing those students to try on and to challenge different parties and platforms and by offering a place to become politically active and express opinions within the marketplace of one’s peers.
As Daniel Osofsky, head of the Bernie Club puts it: “Of course [political clubs] should be allowed. Being part of a high school means being part of a community where you should feel free to express your opinions and be politically active. In previous years there has been a Young Republicans Club and a Libertarian Club, so I think a Bernie club fits right in.”
Political clubs can also prepare one to participate in real politics so that when one becomes eligible to vote, one can begin to make sense of the different candidates and their viewpoints through having talked with and associated with other soon to be voters – both those who reflect our own views and those who challenge them. I also believe that allowing the formation of political clubs will encourage and increase the voter participation rate among my peers. In the last election, “63 percent of the American people chose not to vote, … 80 percent of those were young people” claims Senator Bernie Sanders. With no or low young voter participation, our country lacks the consent and the voice of a significant part of its governed population and threatens to become a gerontocracy.
Even though my classmates and I are currently disenfranchised that does not mean that we are completely shutout of the system. I contacted Nathan Ruby, head of the Bernie Sanders Campaign office in West Lebanon, and he pointed out that high school “students [can] come after school and on the weekends to work on canvassing and phone banks for the Bernie campaign.” So one can contribute to the future of our community and gain a political education before turning 18 by helping in the political campaigns of candidates whom one considers worthy of being elected.
In conclusion, creating and allowing political clubs to form at Hanover High School, and all high schools across the nation, is an important step in the right direction as there is no better way to exercise the minds and engage the hearts and voices of soon to be voters than through High School political clubs.