The first thing Marcela Rabens did when she became an American citizen in July was register to vote. And she’s encouraging others, especially young people, to take advantage of that right.
Rabens and other local leaders spoke to students at West Ashley High School last month during a voter education program organized by the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division.
“We encourage students to understand their right and exercise that right when they’re registered,” said Lacey Durham, a tax lawyer from Dallas and the public service director of the Young Lawyers Division.
Molly West, a guidance counselor at West Ashley High, said she contacted the organization because she agrees that it is important to educate young voters.
“I hope they take away some enthusiasm not just about a civic duty, but a privilege,” she said.
During the program, the students watched a documentary called “Vote America! Honor the Fight, Exercise Your Right” that educated students about the struggles African-Americans, women and the Hispanic population have had to go through to vote.
Thomas Dixon, a local pastor, was another guest speaker. He encouraged students to vote by reminding them of the struggles others had to endure, such as poll taxes, literacy tests and physical violence, to secure their right to vote.
“I will never allow their blood to have been shed in vain. ... Anyone who says they’re not going to vote — that’s like trampling on that blood, sweat and tears,” he told students.
West Ashley High seniors Daquan Glenn and Raven White were among the students in the audience.
Daquan said he is registered to vote and has been watching the debates to learn about the candidates.
“I’m voting because it’s important. The next person decides what’s going on,” he said.
Raven is 17 and not yet eligible to vote, but said the presentation has prepared her to do so in the future.
“It taught me a lot and encouraged me. I’m prepared because I know why my decision matters,” she said.
Other students across the Lowcountry also are ready to vote next week.
Charlotte Flint, chair of the social studies department at Wando High School, said the school is holding mock elections in the media center. She said the students vote voluntarily on computers. The results will be tallied and compared to the state’s votes from the presidential election.
Ashley Hall School senior Natalie Skeele of Daniel Island said she’s excited to vote for the first time. She said her school also will have a mock election.
“I think this election is especially important because the two people running have very different ideas of what America should be,” she said.
Natalie said the issues important to her are unemployment and the national debt. She is applying to colleges and is concerned that many college graduates cannot find jobs.
In addition to watching the news at home with her parents, Natalie is taking a Peace, War and Defense class at school in which the students are required to stay up to date on current events.
Berkeley High School seniors Vernon Haygood, Priscilla Washington and Kamrin Rochay said their school also has been keeping them informed. They watch CNN student news in government class, and they could register to vote at several locations in the school.
Vernon said he wasn’t going to vote at first.
“My mom pushed it,” he said.
He added that watching the debates was something his family bonded over.
The students said that in addition to watching the debates and school lessons, they stay informed with Twitter and the radio.
Priscilla said she especially likes Twitter because you can follow a variety of people and organizations to get a broader view of the election.
And because these students are informed, they know which issues are important to them.
Kamrin said she is concerned about Social Security.
“Why should I put money into it if I’m not going to get money back when I need it?” she said.
She said her Christian faith also has shaped her ideals.
“Our country was founded on those principals, so why change now?” she added.
Priscilla said she is concerned about the national debt and the outsourcing of jobs.
“We need to keep jobs in America,” she said.
Although there are a few issues the students disagreed on, they all touted the importance of being informed before voting.
“We need to be informed to prove we know what we’re doing,” Kamrin said about young voters.
“If you want a future, you should vote,” Vernon said.
Durham said that 44 million young people are eligible to vote, but only half actually do.
Young voters are characterized as those between the ages of 18 and 29. According to a 2008 Pew Research Center study, “One of the most striking features of young voters is their racial and ethnic diversity. Just 62% of voters age 18-29 identify as white, while 18% are black and 14% Hispanic. Four years ago, this age group was 68% white.”
“I hope they’re fired up and know the requirements. This is something they must do. It’s not another mundane task,” Durham said.
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.