Friday, September 23, 2016

Interview with San Francisco Youth Activists

Last month, I talked about a group of San Francisco teenagers that are calling for their city to lower the voting age. I reached out to Vote16SF and had the privilege of interviewing two of their media directors: Joshua Park, age fifteen, and Jessica Eng, seventeen.

Erica Smith: What inspired you to get involved in civic engagement?
Joshua Park: I got inspired to be more civically engaged because I began a community project called the La Playa Park Beautification Project through a group called Generation Citizen about creating positive change in my community. This got me thinking about organizing young people and trying to not be a bystander. I want to work to fight for things I am passionate for.
Jessica Eng: I first became interested in politics and volunteering as a middle schooler. As a student volunteer, I was told to stand at street intersections and farmer's markets and carry a sign for the position or candidate I supported. Some people call these duties trivial, but these small acts gave me a glimpse at civic engagement and jump started my interest in city policy and politics. At the beginning of high school, I joined the Student Advisory Council--a city council with public high schoolers that draft, write, and discuss educational policy for the San Francisco School District. Being constantly surrounded by people who look, speak, and think differently than me has inspired me to work diligently for the students and families in my diverse city.
Erica Smith: If voting rights are extended to sixteen year olds in San Francisco, how will this set an example for other communities?
Joshua Park: San Francisco is not actually the first place to pass this legislation, but it will truly create a healthier democracy and be a light for other cities to follow. Other youth in cities including Washington D.C., Berkeley, Richmond, and Colorado are working diligently on passing similar legislation.
Jessica Eng: If more youth are learning about democracy, voting, and public policy, I believe that they can inspire their communities (whether it be their immediate family, friends, schools, neighborhoods) to also be politically involved. A politically active community is a strong community--it is important to have people show they care about issues that affect them.
Erica Smith: How do you balance your civic engagement work with school, extracurriculars, sleep, etc.?
Joshua Park: To be honest I don’t know, my sleep definitely suffers somewhat but as a youth who is not only part of Vote16SF, but also as a student athlete and a SF Youth Commissioner. One thing to do if I am this busy is not to waste any time and find methods to relax quickly, and for me that's music.
Jessica Eng: Civic engagement as a high schooler does require an immense level of dedication. I also have school leadership and dance program commitments. However, I feel like I am able to balance all my work along with sleep because I budget my time efficiently. I am also not afraid to ask people for help; I know I can’t do every project or act of civic engagement that is available so I make sure to be involved in the ones that matter most to me and that I can contribute to the most.
Erica Smith: Why is it important for older people to be involved in pro-youth causes? Do you think you'll continue to be involved with these causes when you reach legal adulthood?
Joshua Park: I would like to think so, from my experience just because we are young people doing big things somehow discredits the work we are doing. And the same thing happens in life, just because I’m young doesn’t mean that I don’t experience hard things, and when I talk to adults sometimes they cannot understand the life of a teenager in today’s society.  But, I also do think that it is important to represent causes that you are passionate about and make sense.
Jessica Eng: When older people get involved in pro-youth causes, a lot of good can come out of it. First, youth can see the adults as role models and mentors. Secondly, it can inspire youth to also become engaged politically with youth and with their communities when they grow up. I will definitely continue to be involved in youth movements when I get older. In terms of other political issues, I believe that I will continue to fight for gender equality and more environmentally friendly measures.
Erica Smith: How do you think your civic engagement work compares to that of past suffrage movements for women and people of color?
Joshua Park: I think that the focus of those campaigns was equity whereas our campaign focuses on building good habits of civic engagement and voting.
Jessica Eng: The similarity between the three movements is that the people fighting for suffrage feel like they don’t have a say in the government that perpetually affects their life and wellbeing. Presently, San Francisco youth see a plethora of policies that affect students--housing, education, future taxes, etc. We want to have a voice that matters in these issues. On the other hand, the Vote 16 movement is unique in that many youth have grown up in a different world, one that is filled with television, radio, and newspapers. Youth today are more informed than ever and want to contribute to a democracy that they see everywhere every day.
Erica Smith: Aside from the lack of voting rights, what do you believe is the greatest issue or injustice young people face today?
Jessica Eng: Generally, youth struggle with being taken seriously. Youth voting is definitely one way to fight this stigma. On the other hand, I think that more organizations, especially organizations that affect youth directly, will need to take the initiative to recruit student voices. I would like to see more companies reach out to youth and genuinely and seriously consider their opinions.

In the age of social media, teenagers have more resources and motivation than ever to get involved with the causes they care about. Whatever your passions, if teenagers in cities around the country can move towards the right to vote, you can make an impact in your community too. 

No comments:

Post a Comment