As a young person who is highly invested in politics, the discovery that I would miss the cutoff age for the general election by eight months was a hard blow.
The blow was especially difficult because I had suffered many before. I sat aside as voting for a plastic bag ban in California commenced, and the cause I cared most about was on the brink of great success or, perhaps, failure. I waited on edge many times as voters determined what amount of funding was crucial for my public school education. I was infuriated by adults who relinquished the right I wanted so badly. Like so many youth activists, I felt powerless in a world I couldn’t have a say in but had to live in.
All of this changed after the first day of Environmental Science class. The course was relatively new at my high school and no one was sure what to expect. I prepared myself for the expected dooms-day speech on global warming, species extinction, rising sea levels… what I didn’t expect were the words that came as my teacher confronted a peer:
“If you take one thing from my class, I hope it’s the realization of how significant the purchase of this plastic bottle was.”
I was stunned. While my teacher’s comment did not change my status at the polls, I realized I was really voting for what I cared about every day. By focusing on a few simple lifestyle changes, I have been able to accept my voting status with the knowledge I am making a difference in other ways.
1. FOODIES FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Are organics available to you? Fair Trade chocolate? If you are passionate about human rights, animal rights or environmental conservation, supporting the cause can be as simple as being conscious of what reaches your plate. If everyone in the United States opted out of meat and cheese for just one day per week, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road! Small dietary changes can be powerful modes of change, so it is vital that this change be positive.
2. PRODUCTS FOR PROGRESS
Everything we buy is a vote for what believe in (or don’t). Just look to Emma Watson, who made a stand by walking the red carpet in a dress made of plastic bottles. To reduce your footprint, buy reusable containers, or ask for compostables as you save up. If you’re also passionate about human rights be sure to buy clothes from corporations with fair manufacturing wages. By current estimations, 170 million children engage in child labour, primarily in the clothing industry. You can make a difference by wearing the change you want to see in the world.
3. SPEAK OUT FOR SUCCESS
Lack of vote does not mean lack of voice. Anyone can contact their representatives, whether it be in their school board or their House of Representatives. Call your governor’s office regarding banning plastic microbeads or write a letter to your state senator about a lack of support for the LGBTQ community at your school. Start a petition to make equal pay a reality. Organize a march to stop shark finning. There is a wealth of ideas and support from people of all different ages at Roots & Shoots!
The opportunities are endless. Young people can’t afford wait for the day we can vote – and people of every age should be conscious of their daily votes.