Ammaarah Khan and Ashley Garcia are two high school seniors coming from opposite ends of the country with one very important interest in common: They are counting down the days to cast their first ballots, just like thousands of other young people across the country. Forty years ago, students and educators joined forces and fought to give 18-year-olds the right to vote with the passage of the 26th Amendment, and today, Rock the Vote, in partnership with the National Education Association, is launching the first annual Democracy Day to invite thousands more young people to the conversation on the importance of civic engagement and voting. Rock the Vote briefly chatted with both Ammaarah and Ashley to find out what issues were most important to them.
Rock the Vote: What problems are facing your neighborhood that you would like to see improved?
Ammaarah Khan: New Jersey has been tightening its belt and cutting funds that impact education in all forms. In a town as large as Edison, these cuts hurt us. They cut clubs and teachers and slashed funding for many programs and classes that built students as individuals. Our schools are overcrowded and are slowly falling apart because we have no money to restore them. Edison students care about their neighborhood. They care about their education. I care. My only dream is that people will realize the importance of education and put some time into improving the infrastructure of the school instead of constantly lambasting them with ridicule.
Ashley Garcia: In Spring Hill, just taking a walk down the street displays two major problems in our community: inadequate public transportation and a lack of sidewalks. I have resided in the town for nearly eleven years, but have seen little effort to find any solutions to these problems. Our current busing system rarely runs and has a limited number of routes, making it impossible to depend on the bus as a reliable form of transportation. Not only is improved public transportation necessary in times of high gas prices, but also vital as we transition into a time of greater energy efficiency. As for sidewalks, kids who want to ride their bikes around their neighborhoods and men and women who want to get a morning workout through the community have few options, which has led to many safety issues. Even more importantly, since the beginning of the recent recession, Spring Hill has seen a failing economy that has brought huge unemployment along with it. It is time for something to be done to bring Spring Hill back from the recession it has been in for years before it’s simply too late for the area to survive.
RTV: Do you think your elected officials are doing a good job talking to young people about issues that are important to them?
AK: In the beginning, I began to give up hope because I believed that my elected officials no longer cared about the students. However, earlier this year the New Jersey state legislature, headed by Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, held a town council meeting on the impact of budget cuts at my high school. Crammed in a high school auditorium, Senator Buono listened carefully to students and actively responded to their concerns. I think the elected officials in my district are trying to reach out, but I believe some other officials in my state are out of touch with us.
AG: As I have become more politically involved in my community, I have been stunned by the lack of attention our politicians give our youth. Especially in my community, I have yet to see a single instance in which my elected officials have sought after the opinions of the area’s youth and asked what issues we believe need to be fixed. There seems to be a belief that young people are apathetic and indifferent about government and politics, but if we are asked what we think needs to be done to help our community, we’ll tell you. Young people are not just teenagers and college students who like to go to the beach and play video games, we have opinions and views that need to be heard in order to for elected officials to represent the community fully and truly.
RTV: The 26th Amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.
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