Students are Mobilizing, But Will All Voices Be Heard?

By Eliza Newlin Carney

Photo by Marcus Spiske on Unsplash

Youth activism is surging worldwide, as students join climate strikes and school walkouts by the millions, and young U.S. voters prepare to play a key role in the 2020 election. By some estimates, Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) now constitute the largest voting bloc in the country.

But youth civic engagement, like so many other areas of public life, remains hampered by inequities and by racial and income gaps. Civic education programs may have failed students across the board, judging by Americans’ abysmal civic knowledge, but they’ve particularly let down students in more diverse, low-income, or rural communities.

That’s prompted new civic education efforts aimed specifically at marginalized students, as I write this week in The Fulcrum. These include a pair of youth-centered initiatives led by iCivics, the Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship and the Youth as Civic Experts network, which invite underrepresented youth in “civic deserts” to weigh in on civic education. A separate collaboration between Generation Citizen, the Oklahoma City Public Schools and Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, seeks to scale an “action civics” curriculum centered on student advocacy across an entire school district. You can read the whole story here.

IN SOMALIA, STUDENTS ARE REBUILDING A NATION: Speaking of young people and civic engagement, we can all derive inspiration from the armies of young volunteers in Somalia who are stepping in to stabilize and rebuild their war-torn nation, even as the government stands idly by. In Somalia, a failed state reeling from terrorism and environmental disasters, reports The New York Times, “the responders, medics, road-builders and educators are often not government workers, but young volunteers.” As 27-year-old doctor Amina Abdulkadir Isack told The Times: “The youth are the ones who build nations. We have to rely on ourselves.” Read the whole story here.

WANTED: SLEUTHS FOR TRUTH: Amid the scourge of disinformation on the web, it’s tempting for average citizens to despair that they’re helpless to stand up for facts. But forensic investigator Ben Nimmo is proving that average people can, indeed, help crowdsource the truth. Nimmo, who lives near Edinburgh, is part of what The New York Times calls “a small but growing community of online sleuths” who police the internet to combat malicious disinformation campaigns. Money and technical expertise aren’t enough, says Jenni Sargent, managing director of a nonprofit that tracks disinformation and trains journalists. It’s “the human layer” of people like Nimmo that’s advancing the war on disinformation, she told The Times. For the whole story, read here.

HOW PEER PRESSURE CAN SAVE THE PLANET: The overwhelming problem of global warming strikes many as too big to solve through individual action. Even environmental activists tend to pooh-pooh consumer habits–“conscious consumption”­­–in favor of sweeping policy changes, writes Robert Frank in The Washington Post. But Frank makes a data-driven case that consumer choices like buying hybrid cars and installing solar panels can help stop climate change by fueling “behavioral contagion,” and by priming voters for the big policy overhauls that are needed. Critics of conscious consumption “fail to see how small, individual choices can set in motion the mighty revolution they envision,” writes Frank. The same holds true for civic revival, I would argue, which depends as much on the small, individual steps that average citizens take as it does on sweeping fixes to the campaign finance and election laws. Read Frank’s story here.

TO GROW VOTERS, GO BACK TO BASICS: A pair of professors at Duke University and University of Virginia have just released a book that helps underscore why programs like The Civic Circle’s new voting workshops will improve turnout. Young people don’t stay home from the polls because they lack political interest or motivation, argue Sunshine Hillygus, of Duke, and John Holbein, of the University of Virginia. The real problem is more prosaic, and has to do with learning practical skills like how to register, or mail in an absentee ballot, they write in “Making Young Voters: Converting Civic Attitudes into Civic Action.” The nonprofit education news site The 74 interviewed Holbein, and summed it up this way: “Young people may know which policies they support and have every intention to vote but lack the wherewithal to follow through.” You can read the whole interview here:

Eliza Newlin Carney is a journalist and founder of The Civic Circle.

This post was distributed via The Civic Circle’s newsletter, The Civic Voice. To sign up, please click HERE, or contact

The Civic Circle is a nonpartisan nonprofit that uses music and drama to teach young kids about democracy, including voting, voluntarism and public leadership.

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