Teen Political Awareness

by Liam McKissock, guest columnist

Politics. This word has become an ugly one to many Americans. The stigma can be clearly seen when looking at the relatively low voter-turnout numbers, which were as low as 54% of the available voting population in 2012 according to the Federal Election Commission. This alienation from the political process seems to only make matters worse, especially among younger people.

At Brevard High School and in other schools in our area, this disillusionment with politics is all too real.

BHS senior Jeremy Dodson summed it up by saying, “As a teen you just feel kind of powerless when it comes to something as far reaching as politics.”

In a recent poll conducted throughout our school, I found that the majority of the upper-classmen surveyed were either moderately, to not at all, interested in politics. People seem to have an opinion on every issue under the sun, but whether or not they actually get involved in the process is another story.

For my senior project, I wanted to actually become a part of this process and get involved to see how real, local level politics works. I also wanted to understand teenagers’ level of commitment to political activism.

I chose to participate in the Democratic Party simply because it aligns with my personal beliefs and seems to be the party drawing more younger voters at the moment. I discovered the number of teenagers who actually participate locally, however, is astonishingly low.

I attended several grassroots local meetings at the Democratic headquarters in Hendersonville, as there was no headquarters yet set up in Brevard. One thing stood out. I was the only young person in the room. I attended a volunteer training meeting, an orientation for office volunteers, a precinct meeting, and a fundraising event.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I went to these events, but what I found was the nitty-gritty of grassroots political activism. The mostly-retired volunteer force were the ones willing to show up, get things done and run the whole political show, all in the spirit of community involvement.

It may be lacking in glamour, but it is how things get done. But the lack of a younger volunteers is not an ideal situation.

“I can tell you the absence of young people makes the race stale,” said Norman Bossert, a Black Mountain Elementary School principal who is also running for the NC State Senate for the 48th district.

He also thinks there is a decline in interest among young people, and their contribution and influence to the political process will be missed.

“The presence of young people brings a lot of energy to the party when high school and college age students are willing to be foot-soldiers for getting things done, whether it’s putting up door-hangers or helping to make phone calls,” said Bossert.

This excitement could definitely be seen at a larger, more youth-oriented event. I attended a rally for presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, and the energy there was incredible. The amount of young people participating was refreshing, and the whole event seemed to be organized by and directed to young people. It seems that young people can be an effective political force when they want to be.

So how do we make local politics more exciting for young people to get involved? Maybe the answer isn’t as complicated as it seems. The excitement is generated when there are lots of teens gathered in one area because they care about an issue. Bossert talks about the importance of getting politically involved when you are young by starting clubs and groups at your school that are politically or issued focused.

“One of my suggestions is that if [teens] want to be politically involved, they should choose a party of their interests, that they think they’re most interested in, and contact the membership folks and see if they’re interested in starting a Young Democrats club or a Young Republicans club,” said Bossert.

Excitement about the issues is key to getting young people involved, and this can achieved through something as simple as getting involved wherever you can.


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