Young Women’s Project Organizes & Advocates to Lower DC Voting Age to 16

Posted on August 6, 2018 | Khadijah Wilson, Young Women's Project

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Young Women’s Project (YWP) builds the leadership and power of young people so they can transform DC institutions to expand rights and opportunities for DC youth. Through youth educator engagement, civic engagement and capacity-building trainings, and its Youth Vote Campaign, Young Women’s Project invests in those who have been most deeply impacted by decades of racist policies and lack of opportunities, neglected public systems, and poverty to transform lives and institutions to bring about equality and opportunity, health and well-being, and respect for young women and men.

Since April, YWP has been leading the youth organizing and fieldwork of the Vote 16 DC Campaign – educating and mobilizing youth, adults and public officials to support legislation that lowers the DC voting age to 16 for local and national elections. DC Councilmember Charles Allen introduced the legislation in 2015 (without much support). But when he introduced the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 again in April amidst a backdrop of youth activism, this work took off. In April, YWP quickly put together a citywide team of 15 youth leaders from all wards to organize youth, educate adults, and advocate with DC Council members. Youth leaders met twice a week, working out of two offices (Benning and DuPont) and building capacity on media, advocacy, and organizing. Youth leaders immediately jumped into press interviews, student petitions, organizing and educating DC Council members. We were quickly able to secure seven council votes for the legislation, which is enough for it to pass. Further, working with Generation Citizen, we launched Vote16DC, a coalition of youth, adult allies, and organizations who support lowering the voting age to 16 – which has helped to amplify this work nationally through an aggressive media campaign.

On June 27th at the DC Council hearing, Vote16 Youth leaders presented their testimonies. With their written testimonies in hand, each youth spoke to their lived experiences, where they addressed varied issues from disparities in education opportunities to gun violence in their community. More than 70 youth and adults signed up to testify at the hearing including more than 20 YWP youth leaders. “One of the main reasons I support this Act is because it will give young people a voice and make them feel like what they are doing matters and they can feel involved in the decisions that are being made that impact them,” said Monae Scott, a rising senior at SEED Public Charter School and one of YWP’s Vote 16DC leaders. “This is especially important for education. Schools cannot succeed without input from young people.”

Lowering the voting age will help to build the power and civic engagement of young people so that they can vote and work with civic leaders to improve youth services (including education, employment, child protection, and other services). “D.C knows what it feels like to be impacted but not represented,” said Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large). This resonated with many youth and adult partners who testified in favor of the legislation.

The June 27th hearing was an important milestone in demonstrating to members of the DC Council and adults throughout the city that young people are ready to take on the responsibility as voters. The hearing helped youth to understand the value in their lived experiences and to express their unique stories through written testimony. Two weeks prior to the hearing with DC Council, youth leaders demonstrated true dedication, where they traveled between offices to develop testimonies and practice. Adult staff worked closely with youth to help coach them through the process, asking them questions to further flush out their written statements. During this time, youth were interviewed by NBC and PBS news on the Vote16 campaign. This was a time for youth to express their reasons for supporting the bill and more importantly, to demonstrate that they are more than capable to vote.

Vote16 youth represent the diverse voices of DC youth from all wards, especially black and brown youth. The opportunity to vote would allow a population of youth who have not been engaged in policies that ultimately affect them, a seat at the decision-making table. YWP is taking on the 16 Vote Campaign because most of the youth we work with live in poverty, receive inadequate education and housing, are children to immigrant parents and/or are aging out of foster care without a job or place to live in a city that employs thousands of adults to help them.

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Khadijah Wilson is the training associate at Young Women’s Project. As a youth, Khadijah discovered her passion for visual arts through illustrating her experiences as a youth in foster care. Her passion is what led her to pursue a degree in fine art, where she obtained her Bachelors of Fine Art from The George Washington University. Over the years, Khadijah has worked with various community based organizations as it relates to the implementation of restorative justice in DCPS schools and issues that impact black LGBTQ youth and young adults including homelessness, child welfare, and mass incarceration. Khadijah hopes to use her skills as a creative problem solver, to create effective change through challenging and engaging projects.

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