It’s a mantra that’s been playing inside my head since the 2016 election.
Last July, I joined the League of Women Voters, a nearly 100-year-old organization dedicated to preserving our democracy. Inspired by a friend in Connecticut whose chapter teaches civics and conducts voter registration at local schools, I met with my chapter’s president and said that’s what I wanted to do.
Turns out, an education program isn’t standard and my chapter, which comprises three New Jersey towns, didn’t have one. Until now.
I wrote a script and Susan, the league president created a power point to present to 5th graders.
Why 10-11 year olds?
Why not? In only 7 or 8 years, these students will be voters.
They have opinions. They have voices. They have families, friends, and neighbors.
The presentation, “Why Voting Matters” included a mock election between candidates Zeus and Apollo; one promising free homework passes and the other more screen time. We discussed what does it mean to be informed, how do we become informed, and how do we know we can trust a candidate’s promise?
The second round of voting took the candidates into the community. Zeus wants a new skateboard park in an open space inhabited by a rare colony of ducks. Apollo is against it. Debate ensued. They learned about compromise and non-partisan (as the LWV is).
In the third round of voting, we showed what happens when people don’t vote. By removing a percentage of the class from voting, students witnessed the effects on the outcome. When asked how it felt to not vote, students expressed anger, acknowledging the unfairness.
Hopefully, the students went home and shared what they did in school. Hopefully, we made some impression about the importance of voting. Though we touched on apathy and inability to get to the polls as reasons why people don’t vote, we didn’t mention disenfranchisement. That’s for another lesson.
At the end, I gave each student an index card to write something they learned. Here are a couple responses:
“It is important to know the facts about a person before you vote for anyone.”
“I learned that it is important to vote because if you didn’t vote, you wouldn’t have a say in something.”
“One vote can change the world.”
“I learned that everyone has a duty to vote, and if some people don’t vote it affects the outcome.”
As witnessed by the high schoolers taking on the gun lobby and its abhorrent supporters, there’s power in youth. They are our future and I’m betting on them.