They’re too young to vote. But they’re getting informed and ready, and helping other teens and young adults to do the same.
Four area high schoolers looking during the COVID-19 pandemic for a worthwhile project for their time and energy have gotten together to establish a website, theobjectivereporter.
“Quarantine provided us with the perfect opportunity to tackle a major issue that has been growing in our community,” the students said. “Although we’ve seen the passion and heart that our generation – both left and right – brings to social issues, we’ve also seen the data”: Only 10 percent of Americans ages 18-24 have met a standard of “informed engagement” for the past election cycles.
The data they cite are from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE)—the nationally recognized research center based at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
So they came up with a nonprofit, student-run organization to educate and inform voters across Missouri about their politicians on all levels of government. For right now, the group features only politicians from St. Louis city and county, but they plan to keep expanding to other cities and cover more of the Midwest.
The four friends are all seniors at John Burroughs School in Ladue. Children of privilege, yes, but conscious of it and of the responsibility it brings. But they are also – well – teenage boys.
They explain on their website: “It all started on another gloomy quarantine afternoon. … During our brainstorming process to start a new company, we went through many ideas (one of which was soundproof underwear), but we finally realized that even more than simply starting a company, we wanted to inspire real change in our community.”
In addition to the pandemic, the protests that have spread after the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, spurred the teens’ project.
Young people across the nation and world have been involving themselves in social activism on an unprecedented scale. But they also are the age group with the lowest voting rate.
“We knew that this generation was capable of creating social change through protests and media,” the four friends said, “but we wanted to also facilitate political change through our content and resources.”
“The best way to inspire real change is to have an informed vote.”The point man for the group is Rahul Jasti. He’s joined by Thomas Champer, Josh Antony and Ziyaad Raza.
It took us about two months to get the website up and running. One team member built the website as the others focused on research and content for it. They filed legal paperwork, assembled a board of directors, launched media platforms and sought donations.
What sets their website apart from others, they say, is its organization and simplicity, so “voters will not be intimidated in the pursuit of educating themselves on their local politicians.” They designed the website with the youngest voters (and future voters) in mind, they say: the format and layout simple, the site easy to read and navigate, the language straightforward, and the appearance welcoming for people of all political parties.
“Currently, we are seeing injustice all over our country,” they said in an email. “People of our age/generation feel that the best way to make change is to pick up a sign and protest or post articles on snapchat or instagram stories in order to gain awareness of the country’s problems. However, we all feel that the best way to create change is through knowledge.
“If we can get more people to let out their passion by voting, we believe we will see a huge change in the way our country is run.”
But voters should know for whom, and for what, they’re voting.
“If you believe in pro-choice and you don’t realize the local candidate whom you did not research is pro-life, then you are not doing anything to support your own cause. If you believe that our government is not doing enough to protect the black community in this country, go out and vote for the candidate who has made it a top priority to deal with that issue.
“On our website, you will be able to get those key positions from each candidate.”
The founding team members are looking for more. So far, they’ve recruited about a dozen others are from area high schools including such as Ladue and Clayton highs, Parkway West, MICDS and Whitfield.
The group has also started two chapters in Dallas and Atlanta, each with about 10 students on their teams and focusing on politicians for their respective areas. To start a new chapter, people can email the founders at email@example.com.
For the moment, social media and word of mouth through friends, teachers, college clubs and other students are helping them expand the project.
“Now, more than ever, citizens need to show up at the ballot box ready and confident in their vote. That’s our goal.”
Nobler, if no less labor-intensive, than developing soundproof underwear.