Right now our elected officials aren't listening. They don't hear the thousands of student activists rallying for gun control, working on political campaigns, and inspiring true reform for our country.
If it's a decision between meeting with lobbyists or a meeting with students to discuss policy, politicians usually pick the former. It doesn't serve their self-interest to meet with students; we aren't voters, we aren't lobbyists, and we don't have deep pockets of money. The most that a politician would get out of a meeting with students would be a nice photo op to put on social media. That needs to change. Teens deserve to be heard, and not just listened to. We need to have conversations on real policy issues. We need to talk with our elected officials, not just talk to them.
Why? It's because we represent the future. Teens represent an increasingly large segment of the electorate that will soon be ready to vote. We've done our research. Contrary to popular belief, most of us actually know about the Constitution and we're taking government classes. We have ideas and solutions to the problems at hand. For example, students from Akron's North High School in Ohio proposed solutions to the opioid epidemic to the Summit County Opiate Task Force. Or look at Emory University students, who presented proposals to help refugees settle and adapt.
Or, consider me. For the last 11 months, I worked as the deputy campaign manager for Daryl Boling's campaign for Pennsylvania state representative. One of my many jobs throughout the campaign was to develop policy positions with my candidate. When we had policy discussions, my colleagues were often amazed by my knowledge and understanding of a wide variety of contemporary issues. While most of my classmates are not as politically aware as I am, there is a large portion of students that understand the current problems and can think outside the box to help solve them.
So what can politicians do? Start by creating a student liaison group to discuss policy with them. This is where schools and universities can help. Teachers and administrators can identify the sharpest, most innovative, and most intelligent minds, and recommend these students to a local elected official. These student "think tanks" should not merely be talking groups; if the proposed ideas merit it, they should be incorporated into future legislation.
To go even further, politicians should make themselves very transparent and available. One of the reasons that I got involved in politics was that I saw a lack of transparency among my representatives. Town halls, open policy discussions, easily navigable websites should be of paramount priority for elected officials. That's how students and constituents alike can hold their representatives accountable, because at the end of the day, our representatives work for us.
So, I ask all elected officials: Will you listen and respond to our concerns? Will you talk policy with us? Will you involve us in democracy and encourage our participation? It's time for change, and we can spur it on.
Josh Portney is 17 years old and attends Upper Dublin High School as a senior. He plans to run for elected office one day.