Opal Besaw: Young People Should Be Excited, Empowered to Vote

In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the 26th Amendment as another landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation, the Rural Youth Catalyst Project is excited to partner with CIRCLE’s Youth Expertise Series: Fulfilling the Promise to offer the voices and perspectives of rural young people. This week we share a poem from Opal Besaw.  

We’re joining with CIRCLE to present a livestream discussion of youth voting rights on Wednesday Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. ET. Register now to join an amazing panel of speakers and others from around the country who care about this issue. 

And now Opal’s essay and poem: 

Opal Bespaw

Hello my name is Opal Besaw, I firmly believe that every person in America should not only be easily able to vote, they should be excited and empowered to do so. The question is, how do we foster this excitement in our young people? I envision a world in which we take purposeful steps to reach out and engage, particularly with our minority and first generation voters. 

 This could be through further opportunities for —and emphasis on civic engagement during school, [i.e making student elections feel more accepting of all students, (not just popular kids), and/or the distribution of general voter information in schools.]  

Furthermore, schools and communities would do well to encourage more advocacy involvement among youth. If a student is secure in the knowledge of what they believe in, and feels comfortable advocating for it, they are more likely to make an informed decision at the polls.  

Finally, the media can also play an important role in reaching youth voters. If students see their role models as voters, they are more likely to feel needed in this process, and not as if they are missing the boat.  

 

The Vote Boat 

By Opal Besaw 

 

So you love democracy  

World peace is in your heart 

You want to get involved 

But you don’t know where to start 

 

You’re not yet eighteen  

And still a little green 

You don’t have a vote  

And it’s getting your goat 

 

While voting is great, that much is true, 

There are lots of other things you can do to be involved too! 

 

Join a club or start an organization  

Just make sure it aligns with your moral orientation 

Use this as a platform to build people up 

Volunteering will surely fill your moral cup 

 

When you’ve finally turned eighteen, you may want to gloat 

You’re a legal adult now, but your life is yet unwrote 

So go have fun 

In the rain, snow or sun 

But register to vote and do not miss the boat 

 

Use your vote to inspire others 

Gather parents, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers 

Remind them that they have a voice 

That they can make an informed choice 

 

So use your vote to make the world a better place 

And make sure your voice doesn’t get lost in time and space 

Opal Besaw is a high school senior in Kalispell, MT. She is passionate about equality for all people, especially those with Different Abilities. She loves using her voice to help others. When she isn’t advocating, she enjoys listening to music, collecting handmade Teddy Bears, and reading and writing fiction. 

Fulfilling the Promise Livestream

Panelists include from top left: Amanda Furdge-Shelby, Marlene Guerro Plua, Mamie Cunningham, Juan Manuel Ruiz , Carol Blackmon, and Abby Kiesa

Livestream Panel Discussion 

November 17th, 2021 at 3pm ET 

Register

The passage of youth voting rights was a critical piece of civil rights legislation. Join us for an intergenerational panel discussion with rural leaders as we reflect on the historical significance and current fight to fulfill the promise of the 26th Amendment.  

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18; a critical step in the expansion of democracy. Fifty years ago, rural young people were on the front lines of fighting to end voter suppression. Prior to the 26th amendment, the rural states of Georgia, Kentucky, Alaska and Hawaii led the way by passing their own state legislation to lower the voting age.   While there has been progress, the promise of the 26th Amendment remains partially unfulfilled as long as some youth—including rural young people—are underrepresented in the electorate. Despite some media perceptions of the much-maligned, monolithic rural voter, rural young adults are still at the forefront of battles for political and social change.

Join us for a conversation to reclaim and reshape that image, learn from our history, and understand the important role that rural young people play in democracy. 

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