Participants in BBYO's Voice Your Vote Teen Issue Summit held in Cleveland over election day.
Have you ever attended a lecture or event where you were addressed as a “future” leader? The word future implies that you must wait to make a difference, but why wait? America needs young people now.
“Age is foolish when it underestimates youth,” wrote J.K. Rowling in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Too often teenagers are viewed as contemptuous of and insensitive to politics when the fact of the matter is, we simply need opportunities to get involved. One way for me to cultivate my own civic engagement was coordinating BBYO’s Voice Your Vote Teen Issue Summit held last week in Cleveland.
I applied to lead Voice Your Vote because of my fascination with the American political system and the idea that I can make a difference in the lives of other people. During the three-day summit I canvassed the streets of Cleveland; I encouraged the public to vote and campaigned on behalf of the Obama-Biden ticket.
I created educational programs about the American political system and taught my peers about the important roles Jews play in the success of our country. One Voice Your Vote program focused on bipartisan compromise on hot-button topics such as immigration, tax reform, energy independence and more. The participants were assigned an issue and in groups they attempted a compromised solution incorporating both parties’ platforms.
Jews have always played a pivotal role in politics and American history. Despite the fact that Jews make up less than 2 percent of America’s population, there are 36 Jewish members of Congress, according to the National Jewish Democratic Council.
Most high school students can’t vote so why should Jewish teens become involved in our political system? My answer is simple: we have so much to fight for. Anti-Semitism, racism and bullying are rampant in our schools, and the fiscal and social policies of our nation affects us all. Teens need health insurance, deserve affordable college tuition and are deeply affected by a poor economy. If we do not advocate for what we believe in, who will? If we are not educated about our government, who will be? Our hard work today will lay the groundwork for our country’s future.
Civic engagement is described in the dictionary as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” Whether your act of civil engagement addresses Medicare and Medicaid, equal pay for women or nuclear stability in the Middle East, you are continuing the Jewish tradition of making a difference in the United States.
In addition to my involvement with Voice Your Vote, I am an intern at StandWithUs, an organization that educates and prepares high school and college students to combat anti-Zionist and anti-Israel rhetoric on campus. I organize and lead events about Israel that give teens and adults tools to fight anti-Israel sentiment.
My civic engagement includes two other BBYO’s initiatives: Stand UP and Speak UP. Stand UP focuses on community service, advocacy and philanthropy while Speak UP emphasizes Israel advocacy. These initiatives are accessible to teens and the need for volunteers throughout the country is high. Some examples of their programs include soliciting donations by phone for multiple sclerosis research, volunteering at soup kitchens and advocating on behalf of the homeless. The mitzvahs we perform as individuals can change the world.
America has faced trials and tribulations that would have made other nations falter. At this crucial time in the molding of our country’s future, America needs leaders who are compassionate for the struggles of others and knowledgeable about our country’s challenges. Individuals must dedicate their lives to becoming agents of change in order to heal the American political and social atmosphere. The American Jewish community can supply these individuals. Civically engaged Jewish teens are the powerful tools America needs.