The closing morning of the 86th U.S. Conference of Mayors held in Boston began with the Youth Involvement and Community Action Task Force, moderated by Gresham, Oregon, Mayor Shane Bemis, task force chair, featuring David Hogg and Alfonso Calderon of Never Again MSD, and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, about youth engagement.
The meeting also featured an intimate conversation with Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky and presentations by John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics on the IoP’s 35th youth poll, Vikiana Petit-Homm, Boston youth activist, and Dr. Frank Luntz. The speakers all addressed engaging youth in local government policy and decisions.
Bemis said his city’s 25-member youth advisory council has made him “a better mayor.”
Youth Engagement Begins at the Table
Petit-Homme, a student at Boston Latin Academy, said youth today are asking adults to join them in demanding change. We often have no way to make our voices heard in the decision making process, and it’s “not democratic,” she said.
She encouraged mayors to involve youth through:
- Youth council and boards
- Programs in cities that engage youth
- Youth participatory budgeting processes that empower youth decision-making
- Lowering the voting age
- Investing in public schools
Most of all, she said:
Have conversations with us. Resist with us. Fight with us,” and meet regularly with neighborhood youth representatives, bringing a paper and pen.
Volpe agreed. “Spend even more time in your schools, houses of worship and your community centers,” he advised the mayors after presenting the key takeaways of IoP’s latest youth poll, which interviewed 3,000 people ages 18-29 and was published in April.
Thousands of young voters are raising their hands seeking to be understood and empowered, he said, noting that voting among the demographic is trending up with increased participation compared to the 2014 election cycle. The reason, Volpe said, is that they have more fear than hope about America’s future.
The poll revealed the following key takeaways:
- The youngest voters believe the main threats to American democracy come from inside the country.
- The youngest voters believe lack of access to higher education and institutional racism are responsible for instability.
- The youngest voters trust tech companies, local governments and local police more than state and federal government agencies.
- The youngest voters believe voting and political engagement has tangible results.
Mayors Seen as Primary Leaders to Youth
After Calderon recounted his personal experience at the February 14, 2018, Parkland school shooting, he said that while he can’t really explain feelings experienced during a school shooting, there is only one other place he felt that helplessness — the U.S. Congress.
“Not one person has said anything, but I’m hopeful…There are so many things we can do before we get to the federal level,” he said, noting it’s the mayors that care.
“Local laws change lives,” Calderon said.
Hunschofsky recounted that at 1 a.m. the night of the Parkland shooting, she met with the parents who had not heard from their children. “To have an incidence like this as a mayor… we’re not as removed from this as maybe some of the other representatives are,” she said.
“The government that is closest to us is the one that we can count on the most,” said Hogg, who encouraged the mayors to consider the Cure Violence health approach.
The evidence-based program, based at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a resource for violence interruption and training and works with cities to develop community-based violence prevention systems. Hogg encouraged mayors to fight for funding for behavior modification that can lower gun violence.
We can’t keep hosing the blood down our streets…this has to change,” he said.