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So You’re Not Old Enough To Vote

Now what?

Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon. Every Thursday, she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.

During these past few weeks, the news cycle has become increasingly disheartening and infuriating. The stakes are higher than ever before and with a national election just weeks away, your vote matters. But what if you’re not old enough to vote?

If you’re under the age of 18, you might be feeling like the time you discovered that America’s viral sweetheart, Ken Bone, is actually not the lovable meme the internet created him to be — very disappointed. But while Bone is likely unable to make a comeback following news of his disturbing online history, there are some things you can do to help rectify this whole not-being-old-enough-to-vote injustice and make a difference.

First, let’s start with the basics: volunteering. Go door-knocking with a friend in your neighborhood (or link up with your local voter registration organization) and speak face-to-face to people about the candidate you’re supporting. Don’t feel like leaving your house? Phone bank like these awesome eighth graders. Work the polls on Election Day (find out if you are eligible here). If you can drive, ask your elderly neighbors if they need a ride to their polling place.

Educate others. Do your friends and family know where Hillary Clinton and Trump stand on women’s reproductive rights? What about the environment or foreign policy? Regardless of who they choose to cast their vote for, come armed with the facts so that you can help them make an informed decision. Though it may seem basic, ask your 18-and-older pals if they’re actually registered to vote. If not, you can point them in the right direction. Equally as important, do they know where their polling location is? They can check here and then thank you later.

Go to a rally or a protest. There’s nothing cooler or more powerful than being physically surrounded by a group of people who are rooting for — or against — the same beliefs as you. Make a sign or a t-shirt. Engage with other people and ask them why they’re participating. Not sure how you feel about immigration or gun control? This is a truly unique opportunity to hear both sides of an issue, figure out where you stand, and begin to form your own political identity.

Utilize social media. While it’s important to remember that we need more than hashtags to make real change, social media is still a great tool to join the conversation, feel part of larger community, and voice your concerns.

Cool, you might think, but even if I do all this stuff, I still can’t vote. Everything is out of my hands. To which I say: Not so fast.

Here’s the thing: All of the above suggestions are actions you can take before the day of the election. When you wake up on November 9, the morning after, a decision will have already been made by millions of voters that you won’t be able to change. But instead of feeling completely helpless, you have a decision to make as well: What will you do after the election? Because what you do after the election is just as important as what you do leading up to it.

Think about it. Regardless of who becomes our next president, you’ll probably still be living in the same town and going to the same school. The decisions that have a direct, immediate effect on you aren’t necessarily going to be the ones made by the president, but rather by your local leaders. They will decide whether or not your school should have a later start time in the morning, if sports funding should be cut, if creationism should be part of your learning curriculum as some Texas public schools support, how sex ed should be taught in your health class (if at all), and if you’re able to have a safe abortion. That’s major.

Politics can’t be something we should only care about every four years. It’s easy to think about it now as we’re in the midst of a national election, but we can’t tune out once it’s over nor should we ignore what’s happening in our own communities. In order to create change on a large scale, you have to first start small. Who are the representatives in your town or city? What issues are they trying to tackle? What’s their platform? Go to a town meeting and bring a friend. It can feel overwhelming to think about how to make a dent on a national level, so instead, ask yourself how you can mobilize others on a local level. This is where you can be most impactful.

It’s up to you to continue to be an informed, participatory citizen, and to hold your representatives accountable to their promises. When November 8 has come and gone, follow the national news, but read and listen to your local news as well. Ask questions. Remain involved in whatever capacity you’re able to.

It’s the people who show up that pick the government. Yes, the government ultimately decides on policy, but it can all be circled back to the actions of voters — to you. Taking action doesn’t have to be limited to Election Day nor does it have to be limited to those over 18, so if you want a say in who runs our country, then make a choice to show up in the ways that you’re able to.

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