By Rep. Darrio Melton
It’s time for young people to wake up and realize that their votes can change the world.
Our parents and grandparents took to the ballot box to shape America into a country they could be proud to pass on to the next generation.
As we turn back through history, we can see a footprint left by each generation–a footprint made by the young people of that time. The young Americans 50 years ago lead protests to end the war in Vietnam. They burned their bras, staged sit-ins, marched on Washington and signed up voters to guarantee equality for all Americans.
Their protests and commitment to change led to the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age across America from 21 to 18, expanding the number of young people eligible to cast a ballot.
Thanks to their hard work, 50 years later, an estimated 22-23 million young people voted in 2012, almost half of the eligible youth voting population.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy understood the impact of preparing the next generation.
“Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after,” Kennedy said. “In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children. When our time comes, we want to make sure that we bequeath to our descendants a better and safer world than the one in which we live today–a world in which people will be free from the terrors of war and oppression, free from the handicaps of ignorance and poverty, free to realize their own talents and fulfill their own destiny.”
Senator Kennedy got it right–its time for young people everywhere to step up to the plate and advocate for the next wave of change for our children and grandchildren.
Because of the voices of young people before us, we now have Medicare, Medicaid, workplace safety and standards, environmental protection, clean air and clean water, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Acts.
African Americans are moving beyond a hurtful past, standing up for quality education and fair pay and have excelled to the nation’s highest offices.
Women have broken through the glass ceiling and hold record numbers of seats in the Senate, three US Supreme Court seats, and hold the top spot for the next President of the United States.
We have inherited a legacy of progress started by the young Americans of 50 years ago. What will young people 50 years from now say about our generation?
I want them to say that we voted to ensure equal rights for All Americans. I want to vote to give them guaranteed education starting with Pre-K and affordable college and career training. I want to give the next generation health care, high-speed rail and clean and independent energy.
I want to give them a country that’s moving forward. And it’s young people who must take the lead.
We owe everything we are and everything we will become to the generation before us who took the lead and set the stage for change–what difference will your vote make?
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives