By Kim Robson:
It used to be that the only avenue for teens to make a difference was to run for office in their high school’s or their college’s Student Body Council. Every once in a blue moon, we’d hear about a young person running for city council, but rarely succeeding. Not anymore.
Teen leadership is breaking into state government.
As the effects of climate change increase at an alarming rate, teens are recognizing that it’s their future at stake, and are taking action. They want their voices heard and acknowledged.
Take, for instance, four high schoolers running for governor of Kansas. It seems that no one thought to place an age limitation for gubernatorial candidates on the state’s highest office, so some teens are seizing the day by running themselves! The candidates, who are all under the age of eighteen, recently discussed their policy positions and answered questions for over 200 students at Lawrence Free State High School. The forum addressed a wide range of topics including education, gun control, taxes, highways, gay rights and the legalization of marijuana.
Jack Bergeson, a 16-year-old junior from Wichita and the first of the teens to announce his candidacy, says, “I think shaking up the establishment will benefit everyone. They’re just out to serve themselves. I’m not getting into the so-called game of politics for personal gain.”
Soon after Bergeson announced his candidacy in August, three seventeen-year-old Republicans followed suit: Tyler Ruzich and Dominic Scavuzzo from Johnson County, and Ethan Randleas from Wichita. “It’s pretty clear that our politicians have neglected us,” says Ruzich. “We’ve been used by people such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and other mainstream political candidates.”
Ella Keathley, a sixteen-year-old junior at Free State who organized the forum, said that young candidates help students relate to political issues: “In past political events, I was like, ‘I can’t say anything about this, there’s nothing I can do.’ So I felt it was important to teenagers to see other teenagers doing this and not being told by some thirty-year-old male that this is our future when obviously it can be taken into our own hands.”
And then there’s fifteen-year-old environmental lobbyist Jamie Margolin. She’s sacrificing her youth to travel long hours to the state Capitol Building in Washington to meet with members of Congress who are less than thrilled with her message about addressing climate change. During a meeting with State Senator Dino Rossi, for instance, she reported that he “interrupted me constantly, and tried to fill up our scheduled ten minutes with pointless small talk so he wouldn’t have to hear me talk. At one point, he steered the conversation to his wife at home… don’t even try to ask me what that had to do with climate change. In the middle of talking about my constitutional rights, Dino Rossi pointed in the direction of where the PTA was having a rally and interrupted me, saying, ‘You know, they want money too!’
“I blinked, not knowing what to say. I wasn’t asking for money. I was just asking for him to acknowledge science. He eventually started guilting me about even caring about the environment and my future at all. He pulled out a pamphlet about teen homelessness and told me, ‘The money going into climate change could be helping these poor teens.’”
Margolin left Rossi’s office feeling defeated, and her day had only just begun. Their climate action organization, Plant for the Planet USA, spent the entire day pounding Olympia’s pavement, lobbying multiple representatives to sign onto a bill they would end up refusing to vote on a few weeks later.
These young people, whose peers are more concerned with SATs and video games, are directly challenging the recklessness and short sightedness of today’s leadership. They want clean air, drinkable water, and a planet their future children can live in.
As they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, JOIN ‘EM!