Photo by Max Fischer

In the Afterwards for my book, the Soul of Adolescence Aligns with the Heart of Democracy, I open this chapter with the following words: ‘ Emergent narratives and interjoined civic relationships are being born and nurtured in the transition to a new era of social justice, ecological balance, and spiritual guidance.’

In this essay, I provide testimony to a new leaf being born in our nation’s quest to make the right to electoral franchise more inclusive. In New York State, legislation has been introduced (S 660, Hoylman-Sigal and A 274, Carroll), which proposes lowering the voting age to 16 for New York State and New York City elections. As expressed by Congresswoman Grace Meng, who has introduced legislation to lower the voting age at the national level, “ Our young people, including 16- and 17-year-olds, continue to fight and advocate for so many issues they are passionate about, from gun safety to climate crisis. Their activism, determination, and efforts to demand change are inspirational and have truly impacted our nation. It is time to give them a voice in our democracy by permitting them to be heard at the ballot box.”

In my book, I attest to these values of honoring the voices and the contributions of the young generation. As I have written in my book, “ Celebrating the civic value of teen contribution and participating with them in municipal affairs of governance are acts which suggest that adults are now validating the adolescent archetype…Municipal leadership, urged on fervently by civic co-mentors, is opening their hearts to the latent genius and high potential of teens, (and) anticipating changes for which a deepened practice of democracy shall flourish.”

The minimum voting age of sixteen has been established for over a decade in many places abroad, such as Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Ecuador, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey. In the United States, the right to vote at age 16 has also been established over a decade ago in the State of Maryland, in cities such as Takoma Park and Greenbelt. What leaders in these cities have found is that when teens register to vote at age sixteen (as opposed to eighteen thru twenty), they come out and vote in much higher numbers. In San Francisco, in 2020, a referendum to lower the voting age was put on the ballot and supported by all the members of its Board of Supervisors. The referendum narrowly missed, losing by less than a percentage point. This was an improvement when compared to the ballot attempt in 2016, and they look forward to 2024 as a time that has come for teens.

In New York City, we are organizing from the local community on up to advocate for and see success with our NY State legislation. Operating from a base we call Vote 16NYC! We are reaching out to teen-led issue organizations, neighborhood service groups, and elected officials to join us as allies for teen enfranchisement. We recently proposed to Community Board #12 in Manhattan that they pass a resolution of support. On May 23, 2023, the resolution was adopted by the full General membership, with 35 members voting yes, 5 members voting no, and 3 members abstaining. With this action, the Board has validated the words of Meira Levinson in her book, No Citizen Left Behind, “Tackling the civic empowerment gap today expands the ranks of active citizens both now and in the future. This long-term, communal, and equitable arrangement is essential for obtaining ‘a more perfect union’ to which we all aspire.” As I close my book, I remind the members of my generation, who organized so passionately in the 1960s for peace and voting rights for all, that “We Boomers…have the power to re-capture the marriage of our ideals with our practices. We need not leave behind the emergent generation who will govern us in our elder years. We have a world to win and nothing to lose but our shame.” 

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