Pennsylvania, having historically been a swing state, has one of the highest youth voter impacts in the nation. Yet, according to The Civics Center, voter registration rates for 18-year-olds in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the school districts of PA with the largest student bodies, were only 15.2% and 14.5%. Tuesday, November 8th is Election Day. The last day to register is October 24th.
There are monumental issues directly affecting Philly public school students in this election – like women’s reproductive rights, climate change, and public school funding, and this election could sway the control of the senate.
Republican candidate for Governor, Doug Mastriano, is openly anti-LGBTQ, one of only seven PA state senators who voted against raising the state’s minimum wage, and was also present in the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Mastriano is anti-abortion and calls outlawing abortion his “Number one politcal Issue”. He proposed legislation that would ban abortions after only six-weeks of pregnancy even in cases of rape,incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger. Mastriano and Republican candidate for PA’s Senate, Mehmet Oz, have both expressed their support for “school choice.”
Mastriano endorsed education policies that would reduce state-per-student public school funding from $19,000 to $10,000 a year and ban “critical race theory” curricula. Mastriano pledges to use the power of an executive order to get what he wants within his first 100 days in office. Not only will these policies put Pennsylvanians in danger, but they disproportionately affect Philly public school students.
This past school year, there were a plethora of student-led walkouts fighting the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Additionally, the underfunding of Philly public schools overwhelmingly disadvantages students suffering from poverty and systemic racism. We see that if the youth of Philadelphia does not vote in this upcoming election, we run the risk of having politicians implement plans that do not prioritize, nor accurately represent the ideals and wellbeing of Philly public school students and Pennsylvanians as a whole.
However, a new resolution proposed by the School Board of the Philadelphia School District, encourages students to register to vote and learn why voting matters, different non-profits, youth-led efforts, and nonpartisan voter education are being championed throughout the city. From non-profits to Philly-wide initiatives to theatrical productions, all with one goal: to educate young people on the importance of voting.
PA Youth Vote, a popular Philly Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) nonprofit, is run by a youth-led team from across Pennsylvania. This organization prioritizes youth empowerment and was founded with the goal of encouraging young people in Pennsylvania to become voters,civic actors, and to improve public school civics education. They encourage students to involve themselves in their democracy by raising their voices, voting in elections, and reaching out to their political leaders. At the same time, the nonprofit educates the youth on elections, the values of political candidates/leaders, and social affairs.
Once you join youth vote, they offer a variety of committees for young people to join including an In-Person Outreach Committee, Direct Message Outreach Committee, The Social Media Committee, The Website Committee, The Podcast Committee, The Education and Research Committee, The Media Committee, and The Advocacy Committee each offering a unique way for you to network and spread the mission of PA Youth Vote: the importance of youth voting.
PA Youth Vote has succeeded in creating unique ways for young people to spread the message about the importance of youth engagement in elections. A prime example of this was an original play produced by Central High School students entitled, Survivor: The Teen Voter Edition The play was sponsored by Lisa Jo Epstein, founder of the Philly-based nonprofit Just Act, and Thomas Quinn, a PA Youth Vote co-founder and civics teachers at Central.
The play addresses the most common reasons young people don’t vote through a character named Rocky, convincing classmates in his homeroom named “Too Busy”, “Too Young”, “Too Much”, “Faithless”, and “Ash Amed” to register to vote. This production was a unique and creative way students were able to speak to their fellow classmates on how voting is a way that young people can organize and fight for issues they value.
#VoteThatJawn, a nonpartisan Philly-wide initiative, was launched in the Spring of 2018 by SafeKidsStories.com which encourages 18-year-olds to vote by amplifying youth voices and promoting youth connection. Through social media, hosting different events, and publishing student-written articles, they aim to begin a process toward full civic engagement, advocate for youth safety, agency, inclusion, and give young people a platform to educate their peers on how influential their vote truly is.
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If you are an 18-year-old in Philadelphia (or will be in the upcoming elections), interested in learning more about the democratic processes and why your vote matters (or if you’re not interested), apply and involve yourself and your peers in these programs.