In the 1960’s and before, a kid could be drafted into war and all its horrendous possibilities without even having a voice in the electoral process. I’ll just put aside, for the purposes of my story, the issue of whether or not any of us who are not billionaires have a voice anyway.
It was in 1970, when the “vote 18” campaign was in full swing that I found my political voice. I had been peripherally involved in anti-war and civil rights actions in tow along with my parents for as long as I could remember. I saw Martin Luther King, Jr. sitting on my Fathers shoulders peering over a sea of heads in Chicago. My Mom and I went to Quaker meetings and sat in silence with Conscientious Objectors. But the issue of 18 year old’s right to vote was a fire that was kindled in my own soul by a 5th grade teacher, Ms Solberg, whose words of encouragement and empowerment still live on to inspire me over 40 years later.
“Vote 18” was my first cause. It was the first action that was fueled by a passion I had seen in my parents and others but never quite grasped in my own heart. It was my activist coming of age. The spark that was ignited by Ms Solberg, caught flame and burned brightly when a schoolmates older brother, who was only 18, was killed in Vietnam. I had met this kid. He had hung out with my babysitter in my living room, laughing, joking being just an average teenager. I remember sitting with them feeling pretty cool to be hanging with the big kids, pretending to know what they were talking about when half the time I didn’t. There were hippie kids, they listened to Zepplin and Hendrix and were exotic colorful clothing. They were what I wanted to be. And then his number came up he was ripped away from his carefree life of flowers and rock and roll and dropped into a strange country thousands of miles away and killed.
I was already anti-war but the additional insult that this young man could be used as fodder for this senseless war without even having an opportunity to vote was unconscionable.
I wore “Vote 18” buttons and responded with sassy defiance to adults who patronizingly asked me if I even “knew what that meant” (the story of my friends brother generally changed their tone) I wrote letters to politicians, I graffiti’d “vote 18” in parks and in public restrooms with all the flourish of Zorro embellishing his notorious mark. I attended rallies at the University of Illinois campus where my Mom was taking graduate classes and experienced the exhilaration of being part of the unified energy. I did everything an 11 year old could do.
The following year in 6th grade a male teacher scoffed at a bunch of us ” once you kids turn 18 you probably won’t even vote”. As I recall I held my tongue on that one (not always the case when I was a kid) but I carried those words with me every time I went to the polls as an adult, an 18 year old ‘adult’.
Every election I feel a commitment to my 11 year old self who, with trembling hands and a pounding heart stubbornly faced the derision of certain adults. I also take with me the memories of the women and minorities who fought for the right to vote, not only for themselves but for future generations, for us.
Corporate America, ALEC and greasy palmed politicians may have made a mockery of our electoral system and there are many people who feel that it is beyond repair. I have to believe that it is not. I have to fight for an 11 year old Flower Child.
The 26th amendment lowered the voting age for elections in the US. It was passed on March 23, 1971 and officially ratified on July 1, 1971.
Text of the Amendment
Section 1. Lowering the voting age
The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the united States or by any state on account of age.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation