Your vote is your voice. Teen voices must be heard.

A Peacemaking Project by Sofia T.

What is the injustice we are solving?

Our project, Teen Vote, is a nonprofit dedicated to lowering the voting age to sixteen. The act of voting is an act of justice. It is unjust that teenagers with government-granted adult responsibilities are deprived of the adult right to vote. Sixteen year-olds can be tried and incarcerated as adults in most states. The government expects sixteen and seventeen year olds to know the consequences of committing a crime, know enough to understand the legal system, and be mature enough to go to adult prisons. What unjust message does the government communicate when it deems youth ‘mature, responsible adults’ when they are sentenced to jail, but ‘silly, brainless kids’ when they want to vote? Sixteen and seventeen year olds are not only treated as adults in the context of committing a crime, but are also treated as adults when they work. The IRS states that “you may be a teen, you may not even have a permanent job, but you have to pay taxes on the money you earn.” Approximately 20% of high school students in the U.S work, pay taxes, and have no voice in government. This is taxation without representation - the very issue the American Revolution was fought over - because it forces teens to pay taxes without having a say in how much they pay. “No taxation without representation” has been the historical rallying cry of democracy because it suggests the importance of contributing to government and the injustice of disenfranchisement. Our project is working to solve this injustice by proposing a charter amendment lowering the voting age to sixteen in local elections. We have started in Knoxville, Tennessee, by meeting with city council members and engaging the teen community. Teen Vote also promotes civics education by developing curriculum on local government that is correlated to state standards.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of teen disenfranchisement
we will address the issue of lowering the voting age
by proposing a charter amendment and promoting civics education

Our Project Plan:

Goals

  • Introduce a charter amendment lowering the voting age to sixteen in Knoxville elections
  • Encourage city council members to pass this amendment
  • Engage the public by presenting our organization
  • Pass the ballot measure in November 2018, thereby lowering the voting age
  • Contribute to a more educated public
  • Improve civics education, particularly in under-resourced schools
  • Improve the local community by encouraging civic engagement

We will increase my / our compassion by...

reaching out to local schools and proposing civics education curriculum to teachers. This curriculum can benefit students by giving them greater knowledge about their communities, and inspire them to make a difference in their communities.

How will you show courage?

We will face unfamiliar situations and persevere through obstacles to gain support for our cause. Meeting with city council members can be daunting, especially when we present all our work and ask for support. We will overcome this challenge by working hard to develop a presentation, and by practicing with as many meetings as we can productively arrange. We will face inevitable obstacles, since lowering the voting age is a widely debated issue. We will prepare ways to address counterarguments to better convince people. However, if we cannot convince someone - either a citizen or a member of local government - we will not give up, and recognize that support will come from elsewhere.

How will you collaborate with others?

We will meet with local government officials such as city council members, the mayor, and charter commission members. We can learn from meetings by asking for advice from these experts and by asking about their experience in local government. We can also collaborate to achieve our goals, since city council members can introduce and vote on charter amendments. We will collaborate with public school teachers by showing them our curriculum and encouraging them to use it. This collaboration can lead to improved civics education, and empower students to become involved in their communities.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

We will know based on what we have achieved and how much support we have gained. Each meeting should lead to new steps on a plan of action, advancing our goals. For example, we just received the support of one council member. We know we are moving in the right direction because we have introduced the idea to local government, and are now looking to meet with others and are sending a press release to local media. When we contact teachers with our civics education curriculum, we will be moving in the right direction because we will be voicing our ideas. If a teacher uses our curriculum, then we will be one step closer to improving civics education. Even if the teacher decides not to use it, we can still move in the right direction by editing the curriculum and making it more appealing to a teacher.

Key Steps

  • Send press release to local media
  • Contact other progressive city council members for a meeting
  • Show our curriculum to teachers and other adults, and ask for feedback
  • Arrange a meeting with the Knoxville mayor
  • Reach out to the public at community events
  • Propose our curriculum to public high school teachers

Reflection:

How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

The project deepened our understanding of the injustice by increasing our understanding of the importance of civic engagement. Through the project, we met other teens who are passionate about changing their communities but are disenfranchised. I met many teens who work, pay taxes, and have adult responsibilities, but are unjustly unable to vote.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

My community changed as I was able to reach out to teachers with our civics education curriculum and involve more high school students in Teen Vote.

How many people were impacted by your project?

400

Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

We gave the printed civics education curriculum to ten teachers in Knox county and Anderson county with both teacher and student guides. Each civics class had approximately 40 students.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

We learned about the people affected by this injustice through teacher feedback about how they used the curriculum and how their students responded. We also spoke to more teens within our community who are interested in starting clubs, and also teens in other states who feel passionately about lowering the voting age.

What did your team learn?

We learned about the huge value of improved civics education, since developing the curriculum caused us to learn more about the foundations of our democracy. Civics education is vital to understanding of not only how the government functions, but also how citizens function in government. We learned that this idea of empowering citizens to change their communities is crucial to building a positive environment and creating progress.

What challenges did your team overcome?

We overcame challenges of coordinating together and ensuring that everyone's voices in the group were heard. Each of us had different schedules, but we were able to have several meetings and communicate over a group discussion forum.

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

We have involved others in the project by engaging friends we think could be interested. When the fall semester starts, members will officially start their clubs at their high schools in Tennessee. We have also engaged people from other states who are interested in pursuing a Teen Vote initiative for their counties.

What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?

I would advise someone to remain persistent and pursue the project they are most passionate about.

Comments:

Clare W.
8 June 2018 10:37

Hi Sofia!

We're checking in because you haven't submitted your reflection yet. Reflections were due on May 31 as a part of your mini-grant award. Please submit your reflection as soon as you can. We're looking forward to hearing about how your project went!  

Sofia T.
7 February 2018 15:12

Thank you for your interest!
We received the Peace First grant, and are using the resources to print civics education curriculum to be used in local schools.

Would you be interested in starting a Teen Vote initiative to lower the voting age in Atlanta and neighboring counties? Teen Vote is expanding through clubs in local Knoxville schools, and if you are interested, you could be the first Teen Vote club leader in another state.
Here is a link to the Teen Vote website: https://teenvote.wixsite.com/teenvote

I look forward to future correspondence.  

Adara H.
4 February 2018 14:31

Your project definitely raises some important points. Wishing you all the best!  

Djourdan G.
31 January 2018 19:30

Wow! This is a very difficult task, but because of your displayed leadership skills, I believe that it will be a success. Even though I am a 16-year-old myself, I wasn't very aware of this injustice. If you need any support or help from me, I live in Atlanta, GA, I will be glad to help! Please keep updating us on your progress. I am so glad that you are taking initiative, and doing something that most people couldn't do. Thank you!  

Milena B.
31 January 2018 15:51

This is excellent.  

Sofia T.
12 January 2018 12:43

Thank you so much! I look forward to future collaboration.  

Kelsey T.
12 January 2018 12:36

Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.
The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get expert feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below:

You have done an incredible job of articulating why this is an injustice and make a very compelling argument that I am sure will help you as you reach out to others to collaborate along the way -- your points around taxation and incarceration are particularly powerful. I also think it is really brilliant that you are incorporating civics education into the process to ensure that you are creating a well-informed population of young voters (who would probably be much more educated on how our government works than many adult voters!) Your plans to address the issue from many interconnected angles-- lobbying government, introducing the charter amendment, engaging the public to change public opinion, improve civics education, etc.-- is all very strong. I am also especially impressed by how you are collaborating with the whole community, including teachers, media, and city council members.

Opportunities to further strengthen your project/things to consider:
You may already have done so, but if not it would be interesting for you to do some research on how the voting age was changed from 21 to 18. I believe the fact that 18 year olds were able to die for their country in the military, but could not vote was a major factor in changing public opinion around this topic. Although that is a different issues, there are some parallels there around the level of responsibility 16 year olds are expected to have around committing crimes and taxation. There might be some interesting lessons in that history that can help you on your journey!

Congratulations and best of luck!  

Fish S. Peace First Staff
12 January 2018 9:45

Hi Sofia, you should be able to post the document as an "update" on your project. Let me know if you can't do this and I'll help you figure something out. Really interested to see the curriculum. I think it's amazing that you're both promoting civic education and advocating for a lower voting age. Is there a link between the two -- i.e., the curriculum ends with a call to action to sign up for your movement?

I think the idea of tabling at events and signing up new folks is really great -- way to build your movement! Let us know if you want help planning for your meeting with Councilor Roberto. Advocacy meetings can be tricky but can have powerful impacts! :)  

Sofia T.
10 January 2018 20:21

Thank you! Our project goals are going well. We sent out a press release to local media, are arranging a meeting with councilman Andrew Roberto, and our members are starting clubs at their schools to engage more teens.

One area where we need help is in expanding to promote civics education, particularly in covering printing costs. I developed a lesson plan on local government correlated to Tennessee state standards for grades 9-12, and would like to propose it to schools. However, we would need to print the handouts and teacher guides to make it more accessible. We would like to use this in under-resourced schools here in east Tennessee where printing costs are an obstacle. The cost to print a packet is approximately $1.70, and ideally we would like to have at least 100 copies at a cost of $170. I communicated with the leader of a local NAACP chapter who is a public school teacher and is interested in using the Teen Vote curriculum.

I would be happy to share these curriculum materials. Please let me know if there is an email address where I can send this document.

We would also like to have a table at the Knoxville Earth Fest to raise awareness of the movement to lower the voting age. This could benefit the community by encouraging voter engagement and building support for the possible upcoming ballot initiative. I am completing the application for a table. The fees have not been published yet, but they have not exceeded $100 in the past.  

Fish S. Peace First Staff
10 January 2018 17:44

Sofia, this is an amazing project! I agree -- the act of voting is an act of justice -- and I love your clarity around the solution you'd like to see. Sounds like you have a really well-thought-out and detailed plan for how you'll create a movement in Knoxville to spark change! Whether or not the charter amendment is passed (and I bet it will be!), it sounds like you'll spark a wave of youth activism and engagement that can't be ignored.

How are your project goals going so far this spring? Are there any areas where you'd like support? We're happy to help however we can.  

RaulPF C.
4 January 2018 11:46

Great. We will review your application soon!  

Sofia T.
3 January 2018 10:38

Thank you! We will apply.  

RaulPF C.
3 January 2018 10:03

Hi Sofia. Thanks for the additional details. You are able to apply for mini-grants of up to $250. You will need to complete the different steps that you can access by copying and pasting this link after you are logged in: https://www.peacefirst.org/projects/your-vote-your-voice-teen-voices-must-be-heard/dashboard
There is one link as well that is called "Apply for a mini-grant". You can also get in touch with us by writing to [email protected] - we are looking forward to supporting your work!  

Sofia T.
2 January 2018 13:24

Thank you for your interest! Our team is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is working to lower the voting age by meeting with city council members to discuss the introduction of a charter amendment. We have also developed civics education curriculum.

One area where we need help is in expanding to promote civics education, particularly in covering printing costs. I developed a lesson plan on local government correlated to Tennessee state standards for grades 9-12, and would like to propose it to schools. However, we would need to print the handouts and teacher guides to make it more accessible. We would like to use this in under-resourced schools here in east Tennessee where printing costs are an obstacle. The cost to print a packet is approximately $1.70, and ideally we would like to have at least 100 copies at a cost of $170. I communicated with the leader of a local NAACP chapter who is a public school teacher and is interested in using the Teen Vote curriculum.

I would be happy to share these curriculum materials. Please let me know if there is an email address where I can send this document.

We would also like to have a table at the Knoxville Earth Fest to raise awareness of the movement to lower the voting age. This could benefit the community by encouraging voter engagement and building support for the possible upcoming ballot initiative. I am completing the application for a table. The fees have not been published yet, but they have not exceeded $100 in the past.  

RaulPF C.
2 January 2018 11:31

Thanks for sharing these details about your project, Sofia! We also believe in the power of young people to make a difference today! Can you tell us a bit more about your team? Any area where you need help the most? We would love to help!  

Amy T.
25 June 2018 12:56

Hi Sofia,

Congratulations on finishing your peacemaking project! I’m on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for all the amazing work you’ve done and for taking the time to share about it with us!

Below you will find some feedback based on your Reflection, which we hope will help you to celebrate your incredible accomplishment and reflect on how to grow and develop your project in the future:

Strengths:
I’m quite impressed--there’s so many strengths of this project that I don’t even know where to start! You’ve definitely displayed a great amount of courage in preparing for the daunting task of talking to city council members about such a debated topic.

It’s amazing how you worked with your community by bringing in local school teachers and students through the curriculum you implemented and even collaborated with city officials. The way you continue to center the voices of young people and give them the tools they need to make changes in their communities is so powerful. Your perseverance throughout definitely shows through your reflection as you continue on to expand it. Thank you so much for this impressive work!

Things to Consider:
I’m curious about how you approached high school students in the schools and how you made sure the whole community was represented. It’s great that you were able to get more students interested and inspired to start their own clubs at their high schools, and I wonder if you considered including the experiences of multiple affected people when trying to vote. If a student is a person of color, or part of the LGBTQ community, or doesn’t speak English, what is their experience in accessing voting rights? When talking about voting disparities, how do we make sure every student is present in advocating for a Teen Vote Initiative for their communities? I’m happy to talk more with you about how this may look like, if you’re interested!

Also there are a few questions left open from the Reflection stage. We may have added them to our platform after you began composing your Reflection, and if so, we apologize completely. We ask that you go back and answer them because they are truly valuable in helping you grow more (not that you haven’t enough already), but it is definitely not mandatory! There’s also a chance for you to apply for the Accelerator event, which you may or may not be aware of. Your project is clearly one of the many great projects here, so if you are interested or have any questions, I’m happy to help!

We hope you will stay in touch and keep us updated as you continue your work to create positive change!

Best,
Amy