Though it’s officially autumn, the 80-degree temperatures in New York City this past weekend prove that the warm weather isn’t ready to leave us just yet. This, in addition to the latest report of a police officer using force against an unarmed, African-American man, seems to put us in an Indian summer of discontent that has left everyone asking the same question: Why? Why can’t I trust a cop? Why is it dangerous to be walking while Black? Why was Ferguson, Missouri consumed by riots, and why does it matter?
The answer, 11-year-old Marquis Govan will tell you, is that the events that transpired in the wake of Michael Brown’s death were the culmination of some of the underlying social problems that exist not only in a small town outside of St. Louis but throughout the country: high unemployment, militarized local law enforcement, and racially homogenous police forces. Last month, the sixth grader and aspiring senator spoke before the St. Louis County Council and—without the use of notes—gave a two-minute speech in which he explained that the citizens of Ferguson needed jobs and small business investment, not teargas and baton strikes. With all the laments of American youth being less civically engaged than previous generations, it is encouraging to see a middle-schooler identify a problem in his community, think critically about its root causes, and propose solutions to elected officials. Govan may not be old enough to vote, but as a constituent who is impacted by lawmakers’ decisions, he has a right to express his opinion and expect his representatives to take it into account when forming policy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 74.3 million children in the nation. Should their needs be ignored because they are too young to determine the outcome of an election?
Poverty, public transit, education, gender equality, and public safety are all issues that directly impact young people, yet their input is rarely—if ever—sought out. As their parents, teachers, and protective siblings, we think we are making the right choice by shielding them from the ugly, adult world of politics where gridlock and cynicism abound. In reality, we have disenfranchised them and potentially put out a spark that may have grown into a passion for public service. Generation Citizen believes it is time we recognize that young people care about their communities too and must play an important role in improving them; we just need to give them the tools to become effective advocates. By demanding a robust civic education curriculum and supporting participatory budget initiatives that include the youth, we can encourage the next generation of citizens to get to the root cause of these issues, as Marquis does, to create change now. Making this more perfect Union work will require the involvement of all the People, even its youngest members.
– Sidra Ahmad, Generation Citizen Democracy Journalist, New York University
Sidra is a student at NYU majoring in International Relations with minors in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and Public Policy and Management. She has spent two semesters as a Generation Citizen Democracy Coach, and this semester, she will serve as a Democracy Journalist, capturing and sharing stories from GC classrooms. Sidra has held internships with NBCUniversal, the Ford Foundation, Estée Lauder, and the Pearl Theatre Company.
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.