Hawaii public officials should worry about losing their seats if they don’t improve their engagement with young people, a local teen activist testified at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Honolulu on Sunday.
“You’ve got to listen to the young people because in two or three years, they will vote you out because we are tired of people not listening to us,” said Imiloa Borland, 17, as she sat at a conference table across from Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Borland, who organized a local March for Our Lives rally against gun violence last year, spoke at a session on youth civic engagement featuring David Hogg, the co-founder of March for Our Lives who survived the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Hogg, an outspoken gun control advocate, spoke about the need for city youth councils that can offer input on public policy matters.
“If you look at most city councils in America, especially the ones that don’t have a youth council, the kids that live under 18 in your city are not going to be fully represented or really cared about,” Hogg said.
Honolulu doesn’t have a youth council, Borland pointed out.
“Most of the children here in Hawaii do not know what’s going on in their government, and it’s because there is no outreach for youth,” said Borland, a rising senior at Punahou School. “It is exhausting and it’s frustrating, and we are angry because nobody ever wants to listen to us because we’re ‘too dumb’ or ‘too stupid’ or ‘don’t know anything.’”
Organizations like youth councils can help guide policy in a way that benefits everyone, Hogg said.
“Young people are focusing on electing morally just leaders that care about their future and whether they have a planet to live on by the time they’re on city council, that care about whether or not they survive school, or whether or not they’re killed on their way to school as a result of gun violence that doesn’t get on the news every day,” he said.
Hogg wants to see 71% voter turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds in the 2020 election. To do that, there needs to be a greater focus on youth voter registration and outreach and increased investment in civics programs in schools, Hogg said.
“By raising the overall youth voter turnout, and voter turnout as a whole, we can collectively lower the amount of stupidity in politics, which there is no shortage of,” he said.
In the 2016 general election, an analysis by the U.S. Elections Project found that Hawaii’s voter turnout was 43%, the lowest in the country and 17 percentage points below the national average.
Turnout can be improved by raising the voting age to 16, Hogg and Borland said.
“In the United States, nobody should be left out of the conversation,” Hogg said.
Asked whether Honolulu needs a youth council, Caldwell said that area youth already have an opportunity to give input on local issues in the neighborhood board system but that there may be room for a youth council too. There have been state-level attempts to create a youth council that did not succeed, Caldwell said.
“I have no opposition to a youth council type of establishment where we’d get the input of youth on policy and issues that are important to them,” he said, adding that it would require decisions on funding and location.
Other than a youth council, Caldwell said the city can engage with youth through social media and lowering the voting age to 16.
“Anything to get more people to vote,” Caldwell said.
Borland said she was privileged to learn about political activism from her mother. But most children in Hawaii don’t have that, she said, and the government needs to reach out to them.
“Politics should be for everyone,” she said. “The people in local government are our representatives even if we haven’t voted them in.”