“That candidates were answering to us was really powerful. I was really glad I got to be a part of it. Even though I can’t vote yet, I’m doing everything I can to tell my family and friends the importance of using their vote.” –Kelsey, high school sophomore in Austin, Texas
“I thought it was really amazing to be able to ask candidates questions specific to what we [young people] care about.” –Wasiq, college freshman at the University of Houston and gun violence prevention activist
Kelsey and Wasiq were two of the young people who participated in the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas’s first-ever virtual youth candidate forum, a “Texas Youth Town Call” on October 10 that gave young people the opportunity to engage in the political process by calling in or watching online to hear directly from their candidates for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and U.S. Senate. More than 1,600 young people participated in the event, proving that our children and youths are eager to become engaged future voters to help shape the nation and world they want to live in.
The fact is this is a difficult and terrifying time to be a child in America. Though nearly 13 million children live in poverty in our economically rich but morally anemic nation, the critical programs children rely on to survive and thrive are under assault by unjust budget cuts. It is economically and morally reprehensible that children are the poorest Americans and the younger they are the poorer they are. At our borders, infants and other children are being cruelly separated from parents and placed in indefinite detention. And the gun violence epidemic fills children with fear that they will be killed in a school shooting, on the streets of their neighborhood, at a movie theater, a shopping mall, a concert, a church, at temple or synagogue on an ordinary day of worship.
How can we defend our faiths and pretend to be a nation of equal opportunity and equal justice? We must act to end the onslaught of indefensible child killings and injuries. We can listen to and amplify the voices of voteless and suffering children to shine a light on these injustices. We can hold our elected officials in all political parties at every level of government accountable for how well they stand for children and whether they vote to invest in and protect their health care, safety from guns, funding for schools, and safe housing to ward off the wolves of homelessness. And on November 6th and at every opportunity we can—and must—vote.
I was pleased to provide an introduction to When You Grow Up to Vote by Eleanor Roosevelt with Michelle Markel, a marvelous new edition of the former First Lady’s children’s book on citizenship updated for today’s young readers. It is so valuable for children to understand how elections impact their health, education, safety, communities and futures—and that in a democratic society, if we like or don’t like what our political leaders are doing and stand for, then we must make that clear by using our voices and our votes. I took my three sons to the polls with me from infancy and when they grew older taught them how to pull the levers on the voting machines. Children can start to learn right now how voting will affect their lives, and adults can set an example by taking children to the polls and promising to vote for policies and candidates that will ensure a brighter future for them and all children.
That’s why the Children’s Defense Fund prepared a nonpartisan Voter Guide for the 2018 midterm elections to provide important information about seven key areas that deeply impact children: Child Poverty, Child Health, Early Childhood, Education, Child Welfare, Youth Justice and Gun Violence. For each policy area, we lay out our vision for children, important facts about the state of America’s children today, and key questions for you to explore with candidates seeking your vote. These questions shine a light on candidates’ views on laws, policies and budget investments that can help—or hurt—millions of children’s chances to grow up healthy, housed, educated, safe and excited about a bright future.
Our 2018 election comes at a critical moment for America’s children and all who seek to build a nation fit for all—not just some—children. I urge those of us old enough to vote to hold our elected officials accountable. Learn about every candidate’s views where you live and vote with the futures of our children in mind.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. Children can’t vote but you can. They are depending on you and me to use our power to protect them from violence, poverty, neglect and abuse and to ensure them the tools to become healthy contributing adults. So please get informed right now. Make sure you have a plan to vote and get others to vote. Bring your children when you go to the polls and set an example. And defend our children who cannot defend themselves.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org