On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
As the nation’s eyes turn to Washington for the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, we’re turning our attention to D.C. high school students. What do they make of the impeachment inquiry and the upcoming presidential election? And how do young Washingtonians on the cusp of voting age engage with politics?
Join us for a candid conversation with students, an educator and a researcher hosted by Thurgood Marshall Academy. We’ll talk with students about what civic engagement means to them — from inside the classroom to canvassing on the streets. We’ll hear their thoughts on voter issues like gun control and climate change, the upcoming presidential election, media coverage and local issues that they’re addressing in their community.
Please note: WAMU 88.5 and wamu.org will be carrying live coverage of the impeachment hearings at noon on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. Tune in for this special broadcast of The Kojo Nnamdi Show at 9:00 pm on Tuesday.
Produced by Margaret Barthel and Cydney Grannan
- Robyn Lingo Executive Director, Mikva Challenge D.C.; @robyn_mikvadc
- Abby Kiesa Director of Impact, The Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning and Engagement, Tufts University @CivicYouth
- Alexis Jones Student, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School
- Delonta Johnson Student, Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Nationally televised hearings posturing in the press and on Twitter minute by minute news notifications it's the stuff the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is made of. Political Washington may be mesmerized, but meanwhile in the rest of D.C. there are people going to work and students going to school as usual. So this week we're spending some time asking those people, real Washingtonians how they're thinking about the big political moment unfolding in their backyard.
KOJO NNAMDIToday we're at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in Anacostia to hear the AP Government class weigh in on all things national and local politics and how they think about political engagement as soon to be voters. We've got the whole class here. And also joining me is Delonta Johnson, a member of the Mikva Election in Action Fellowship and a twelfth grader at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Delonta, thank you for joining us.
DELONTA JOHNSONIt's my pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Alexis Jones, a twelfth grader at Thurgood Marshall. Alexis, thank you for joining us.
ALEXIS JONESThank you for having me.
NNAMDIRobyn Lingo is the Executive Director of Mikva Challenge D.C. Robyn, thank you for joining us.
ROBYN LINGOThank you.
NNAMDIAnd Abby Kiesa is the Director of Impact at The Center for Information & Research On Civil Learning and Engagement or Circle at Tufts University. Abby, thank you for joining us.
ABBY KIESAThank you.
NNAMDIAlexis, I'll start with you. Do you care to share your thoughts? What have you been thinking about this impeachment inquiry?
JONESWell, until this morning I felt like I didn't know that much about it. I just would get news alerts from the New York Times and they're constant and they're irritating. But I feel like the process is very slow and that it's like it's taking forever for them to get to this decision on whether or not to have a trial, which might not even -- you know, presidents usually don't go to jail. So even if, you know, he's found guilty, it's not like he'll really face any repercussions. And I just feel like it's a big phenomenon happening for to end up nothing really happening -- nothing changing.
NNAMDIYou said until this morning, you started boning up this morning for this?
JONESYes. I mean, I hear stuff about it, but I didn't really understand. It's a very confusing process I feel like.
NNAMDIDid your boning us this morning help to clear up any of that confusion?
NNAMDIDelonta, what have you been learning about impeachment in your AP Government class?
JOHNSONWell, actually thanks to my AP Government teacher -- well, one of them Ms. Donnelly, we actually went over a lot in class today. And we learned that the whistleblower, who leaked information between Trump and the President of Ukrainian. We also learned that during a phone call it was a quid pro quo, which means this or that. So Trumps in agreement -- if Trump did this then Ukraine would also help the United States, and in the agreement Trump offered Ukraine to help them investigate Hunter Biden and their involvement with the company he was involved with which is Burisma.
NNAMDIHunter Biden, of course, being the son of former Vice President and now presidential candidate Joe Biden. You have all watched some of these impeachment hearings I can presume. Some people are riveted by the hearings and tune in for hours, but others think the hearings are an empty political spectacle. If any of you want to step up to the mic and give your own impressions of the hearings, you're more than welcome to do so right now. You can share your name if you want to or not if that's the case.
WARRENMy name is Warren and I have my own opinions about the whole impeach inquiries, but kind of off-putting and like it's kind of differs from my peers. On one hand I do believe I should be going through (unintelligible) happening. The fact where he's trying to have foreign companies meddle with our elections and with especially what happened after with 2016 election. Him saying that the Russians aren't doing it and he's just pretty much saying that he wants help with meddling with the elections, but off-putting. And then another part of me just says it's pretty much his last year and if it does go through I really don't want the vice president to become the president because to me he's a bit more worse. And I really don't support most of the ideas neither of them do or any of their policies.
WARRENAnd it feels also a bit like a big waste of time, because it's almost in the election year. And to me just let him keep piling up all the problems and mistakes and then he'll probably lose. And to me I would feel like he'd probably lose a lot more support for the 2020 campaign.
NNAMDIYou raise a lot issues here. You mentioned Vice President Mike Pence. You feel he would be even worse in your view for the country than President Trump, why?
WARRENI think the reason I say that is because it's just -- he's like Trump, but a lot worse. That's like the best way I can put it without going on a massive rant.
NNAMDIAnd you also mentioned the Russian interference on the last elections, which there is a great deal of agreement around the country that Russia did interfere in the last elections. But one of the quirks of this impeachment inquiry is that President Trump seemed to feel that the origins of the interference in the elections started in Ukraine. Were you aware of that?
WARRENNo, actually. I was not aware of that part.
NNAMDIIt's just one of the more confusing aspects of what's going on in this case, but thank you very much for sharing your point of view.
NNAMDIRobyn Lingo, I'd like to turn to you next. You've been working on getting youth interested in politics and civic engagement in this area for years. Do you notice anything special about how students are thinking about the current political moment, impeachment and the Trump presidency?
LINGOWell, thank you. So Mikva Challenge is a youth civic engagement organization and our work is about giving young people a chance to learn democracy by doing it by being active participants now and having a chance to have their voices heard. Our national president likes to say young people are not apathetic. They're just often uninvited to these conversations. So thank you for inviting all of our young people to this conversation. I think I have absolutely noticed in the last three plus years that young people are paying attention. That this fall we recruited students to be -- spend the year learning about presidential candidates in the primary -- in the upcoming presidential primary.
LINGOWe were hoping that maybe we would get 20 high school students who would agree to come every week for two hours and learn about this process. We had over 55 applications from about 17 high schools across the city full of young people saying, I want to know what is going on, I want to be able to study and really have the facts and the information to make a wise choice for myself or for my family in this next election. And I just think that shows that young people get that this is an important election that we have coming up, and they're really thinking about how to be both an informed voter for themselves and for the communities that they engage with and represent.
NNAMDIAbby Kiesa, in a way the same question to you, we know the Washington region is pretty political by nature. What can you tell us about how politically engaged young people are locally compared to other regions of the U.S.?
KIESAAbsolutely. Thank you, Kojo. So generally we see that young people on the Greater Washington area are more engaged when compared to young people nationally, but it's also really important to recognize that even within an area like ours the resources and concrete opportunities can differ by school, by county, by neighborhood. So conditions matter a great deal, and what we see is that almost half of 16 to 29 year olds in the Greater Washington area talk with family and friends about social or local issues at least a few times a week and young people in this area are voting at a higher rate than youth nationally.
KIESAWe see more young people in the Greater Washington area following news and watching news even about local issues. So two-thirds do that at least a few times a week. And in the Greater Washington area -- and maybe this isn't a surprise, we see an increase, compared to the national rate, of young people contacting or visiting a public official to express their opinion. So it's more than nationally maybe not a surprise and it means that over 100,000 young people in this greater area have done that, which is a huge number, but we also see that young people are contributing to their communities in other ways that aren't so kind of, you know, big "P" political.
KIESAAlmost one in three are having conversations with their neighbors a few times a month, and one in six have been doing favors for neighbors at least one time a month. And tens of thousands have said that they've gotten together with other people in their neighborhood to do something positive for their neighborhood or their community, and more youth specifically in D.C. have done this. And then just as another way of looking at this we see that one in five young people in the Greater Washington area have bought or have boycotted products or services for a particular company based on their political values or practices, which is more than double the national rate. So there's a lot of ways that young people are involved in this area, and in most of them it's higher than the national rate.
NNAMDIWhat do you think is driving this? What is particular to this region that seems to be leading to an increased involvement by young people in all matters political? Is it something in the water? Is it something in the air? Probably something in the air, anybody care to respond? I can start with you.
KIESAYeah, absolutely. So one of the things that we've learned over and over and over again, -- and Robyn really mentioned this. This notion of being invited, right, and having a real concrete opportunity knowing that you're going to go into a space where people are going to want to hear what you have to say. So those real concrete opportunities matter. And we see a lot of that in the D.C. area, and it can differ from neighborhood to neighborhood clearly, but youth organizations like Mikva D.C. and having civil learning in schools can matter a really great deal to reaching a large number and a diversity of young people.
KIESASo those are the two things that I've seen here in the Greater Washington area. And also, you know, being part of conversations matters too. Hearing about things happening like impeachment like, you know, a significant bill being, you know, discussed by the D.C. Council. And those things really matter. Being a part of conversations where people are talking about public issues. And that's just a little bit more likely to be happening in the D.C. area.
NNAMDIIf anybody else wants to talk about what's been inspiring them to join this conversation you can simply step up to the mic. Delonta, as part of the Election and Action Fellowship with Mikva Challenge you've been following the lead up to the 2020 presidential election and the Democratic primaries pretty closely. First, what inspired you to do that and second what have your impressions been of the whole process?
JOHNSONThank you. And what inspired me to get involved with Mikva is that I wanted to be more politically engaged not just in my community, but in D.C. as well. So I thought Mikva was the perfect opportunity for me to feel invited and actually do something.
NNAMDIHave you just kind of always been interested in politics? Did it come from your home environment that you're in? Did it come from friends that you associated with or that just who you are?
JOHNSONIt comes from the friends that I associate myself with, yes.
NNAMDIOkay. So you decided to get involved and as I said you've been following the lead up to the 2020 presidential elections and the primaries pretty closely. What have your impressions been of that whole process?
JOHNSONI think it's a very interesting process. And I believe that even though like I was able to gain insight on -- even though like there's Democrats, but as you go deeper into the Democratic Party there's always differences between each candidate.
NNAMDIAnd there are a lot of candidates. Have you chosen a favorite and if so, why?
JOHNSONOh, yes. I've chosen a candidate and that candidate is Andrew Yang. He's one of my favorites.
NNAMDIWhy have you chosen Andrew Yang?
JOHNSONBecause out of all the candidates Andrew Yang is the only candidate to donate money towards mental health. And I think that's -- and mental health is a really important topic to me.
NNAMDIApparently everybody else in the room knows that you have a favorite candidate is that correct here? Does that mean that each of you has a favorite candidate also? So Delonta is a little unusual in that respect that this early in the race he has a favorite candidate. Okay. If anyone else wants to talk about their possible favorite candidates you can feel free to step up to the mic. Robyn, following politics these days can be a full time job. Is it hard for educators to strike a balance between covering current events in the classroom and keeping up with the regular curriculum?
LINGOI think that's a great question. I mean, I have the great honor and privilege to work with so many amazing educators in this area both here at Thurgood Marshall Academy and at schools, about 30 to 35 middle and high schools across the city. And I have never met a social studies teacher who or a teacher period who doesn't want to bring this kind of current real life learning into their classroom. There's just always a balance of time in terms of what needs to be established and gotten through and making sure that you also have time to ask young people, What do you care about and why does this matter to you? I think that is the heart of our work is trying to provide a little bit of a switch in the way we teach civics and government that we give young people a chance to first talk about what matters to them, what do they see in their community.
LINGOOne of the activities we do is just asking young people to think about, where do you see government in your daily life? And people might not have a lot of immediate answers, but when you drill down on it, think about: Where is the bus stop? What did I eat for lunch? Why do I have to wear this school uniform? Why are there not more after-school programs? All of those are questions that have some local policy or sometimes national policy involved. And so we believe is you give young people a chance to see those issues that relate directly to their lives and give them a chance to take action on them and to be the leaders of change in their communities that makes the whole subject of checks and balances, of decision -- who makes the decision and how does that happen, what is my right and responsibilities of citizenship come much more alive in the classroom.
LINGOAnd we've been really privileged to have great partners -- one of the things I was going to say to Abby -- to the question about why young people in the D.C. area might have higher levels of engagement is I really do think the D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Charter Schools have really invested in this kind of civic learning for young people, and in thinking about how do you add the idea of taking informed action, taking action as a citizen into everything we do when we teach about civics and government.
NNAMDIWell, somebody who can talk about being in different areas is you, Alexis, because you used to live in Georgia. It's my understanding. Is that correct, at some point?
JONESYes. Yeah, I did.
NNAMDIAnd I know you took a government class at Syracuse University over the summer. Those are completely different parts of the country. Why do you think young people in this area tend to be more active politically than they are in other parts of the country?
JONESWell, I feel like the main reason is, you know, one for D.C. is the Capitol, and it's like the worst and best of America is here right in front of your face. You see all of like the wonderful things like the celebrations and like community and everybody is really close. Then you also see gun violence in your face, you know, once a week more than that. And I just feel like it's really hard for children to see this every day starting from young as three years old or younger and not grown up and want to do something about it.
JONESWhereas in like Georgia I didn't even know, you know, like this stuff was going on, and nobody that I talked to talked about anything that really, you know, mattered. It's very surface level. You're in the suburbs, you know. Houses, everybody looks the same, but you come here and you see all these differences right in front of your face. You want down the street and hear somebody's story completely different from yours. It's hard to not want to be involved.
NNAMDIAbby, what can you tell us about voter turnout among young people in this region? And have you seen those numbers change over the years?
KIESAWe absolutely have seen those numbers change. And when it comes to youth voting we have to recognize that there's a lot of differences amongst young people. And who young people care to vote for as well as, you know, which young people are being reached out to. So that's one thing that we have to understand that we need to do that a lot better. In both 2016 and 2018 we actually saw significantly more young people in this region percentagewise cast ballots than young people across the country.
KIESAFor example, in 2018 youth turnout in Virginia saw one of the highest increases in the country. It jumped more than 20 points. And this continues a trend of growing youth voter turnout in Virginia. And then in Maryland we also saw a jump in the 2018 election. And both of these areas had turnout almost half of young people in each area turned-out in 2016, which was far above the national rate.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come we'll continue this conversation about local students and national politics coming to you from the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back from the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington D.C. where we're talking with young people about local and national politics. We're talking with Delonta Johnson, a member of the Mikva Election and Action Fellowship and a twelfth grader at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Alexis Jones is also a twelfth grader at Thurgood Marshall. Robyn Lingo is the Executive Director of Mikva Challenge D.C. And Abby Kiesa is the Director of Impact at The Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning and Engagement or Circle at Tufts University. Alexis, I want to start with you this time. You went to the Democratic Party State Convention in New Hampshire this year. What was that experience like and what questions did you ask the candidates?
JONESI felt like this experience was very eye opening to see face to face these different candidates and see like behind the scenes all the campaigning that's done. And how excited different Democratic candidates are about just being there and supporting their different candidates. And the one question that I really got to ask I think three candidates like Amy Clovershaw, and I asked them why do they think that my generation should vote for them.
JONESAnd they all gave very generic answers like, oh, because I support climate change, or because my daughter is Gen Z. Like what does that have to do with why I should vote for you specifically? Like everybody that's a Democrat pretty much supports the fight against climate change. That's like a very common thing to say. So I wanted to know what stood out about them, and I think it showed me that the candidates really didn't give any thought to the question of why youth should be involved in the conversation.
NNAMDISo you got the impression that the candidates were not really thinking about you very deeply.
JONESRight. I mean, it makes senses after -- Ms. Abby, what she was saying about how the voter turnout and most of the people who are voting are older. So why would they pay attention to the youth, but I feel like that's part of their Democratic duty.
NNAMDIWell, because you'll be voting pretty soon in just a few years.
NNAMDIYou yourself will be able to vote.
JONESIt would make sense for them to talk to us, because they would bring in a new span of voters, but instead they just focus on the population that's already voting.
KIESAThis is actually an issue we had. A robust debate among some Mikva Challenge students in 2016 around the issue of whose responsibility is it? Do young people need to show up and vote more and therefore campaigns will pay attention to you or is it a campaigns responsibility to recognize that you will be 18 soon and a possible voter. And there were mixed opinions on both sides about whose responsibility it is to be able to turn the tide to make youth voting equal or more than older generations.
NNAMDIGo ahead. Please, Robyn.
LINGOWe also know that there's a ton of young people who work on campaigns. I mean, in a lot of ways young people like are the motors of campaigns, but we see that in our data from 2018, for example, that there were a lot more young people who wanted to work in a campaign than got to. So there's a bunch of young people working on campaigns and making them happen, but there's a lot more young people would if they saw the opportunity. So we come back to this notion of opportunity.
NNAMDIHas anyone else in the room traveled outside of D.C. on a civic engagement project? If you did, raise your hand and step up to the microphone. Michael, where did you go and what did you do?
MICHAELRecently I went campaigning with my teacher, which was not associated with the school by the way. We went to Virginia to campaign for Sheila Bynum-Coleman. And as you guys know Virginia swung left this time. My friend, Delonta and I and Sam and a lot of my friends, Alicia, we went to go door knocking and campaigning. That was pretty nice experience. We also went to New Hampshire and we got to see a Democratic convention.
NNAMDIMike, stay for a while because I'd like for you and Delonta to have some dialogue about this because, Delonta, Michael mentioned you. You went to New Hampshire too and you were also out door knocking in Virginia the weekend before the election there earlier this month. What was that like for you?
JOHNSONThe canvassing or the convention?
NNAMDIBoth. Start with the canvassing.
JOHNSONSo first it was I would like to put on the table that Virginia has really weird weather. So it was cold at first and then it became really hot. So that was one thing.
NNAMDIBut they're right next door. The weather was that different than D.C.?
JOHNSONYes. It's very different in Virginia. And one of the things that we did was, well, we knocked on doors. And one of the things I was able to learn was that like people in Virginia they're like really nice or at least the people that was at their house that day. They were really nice people. They wasn't hostile in any way. And I thought it was very interesting to be able to take part in that opportunity to canvas.
NNAMDIMichael, did you have the same experience? Virginia has this reputation of people being very polite even though their politics were not always the politics that they have today, but that's another story. Did you find the same kind of response when you knocked on doors?
MICHAELYeah. I found the same thing. Delonta and I, we actually went door knocking on someone's house. And they came up and there was open dialogue and they even gave us like candy bags. This was right after Halloween almost. They gave us leftover candy and they offered us teas, like we're good. We just want to knock your door. Tell you about voting. We wanted to, you know, go. That was a pretty fun experience.
NNAMDIDid you run into any people who had one opinion or the other very strongly for Democrats, for Republicans, against Democrats, against Republicans?
MICHAELNo. Not at all. Everyone we met was either liberal or Democratic and independent and we were just trying to sweeten them.
NNAMDIOkay. So you didn't run into any overt differences of opinion, you didn't have any arguments with anybody?
MICHAELNo, unfortunately not. And a lot of people didn't even open the door. Well, for me and Delonta like (unintelligible) everybody was there for him all the time. But a lot of times people you would debate with had their signs. Like some guy, I think Kurt Cox, he was an incumbent and he was an open Republican. And we knew not to knock on those doors. We had a list of people who we needed to knock on, known voters and we just wanted to persuade people to continue to vote.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you guys didn't get into any disagreements, because I for one would not like to get into a disagreement with you, Michael.
NNAMDIThat's a whole other story. Somebody else care to step forward? Tell us what your experience was.
TAYLORI'm Taylor. (unintelligible) the activist group here. But I had went to Vegas for a gun safety forum at 2020. I had the opportunity to ask a presidential candidate a question about how he can -- I asked Andrew Yang a question on how he can shape like gun issue more of a community health issue and like trying to lower the incarceration rate of students, youth and like community people.
NNAMDIHow did you enjoy that?
TAYLORI enjoyed it, but I didn't really -- I wasn't on Andrew Yang's side. I was more of a Corey Booker person, because he can relate to us.
NNAMDIAre you still a Corey Booker person?
NNAMDISo you identify already as a Democrat?
NNAMDIDoes everybody in the room already identify with one political party or another? Raise your hands if you do. Anybody in the room still neutral about what political party? Yeah. There are about four or five or you, but most of the room seems to identify specifically with one political party. You're about to turn 18 and be eligible to vote. What issues do you think will influence your vote the most do you think? Michael, you come back again because you like to talk. What issues are you looking at that are likely to influence your vote?
MICHAELI'm here doing education. Education is a big factor for me. There's a lot of illiteracy that happens in impoverished neighborhoods. I wish a politician would speak more on education, because education is really the gateway to a lot of these other problems because education will help solve gun violence. Education can help solve mental problems, because with education you can unlock more doors and get connections, and find more people to talk to about your problems. So education is really a big impact for me and determines who I vote for.
NNAMDIAlexis, what issues are you looking to? You mentioned the fact that a politician simply saying, "Climate change," is not necessarily appealing to young voters. What issues would you be expecting politicians to talk about if they really want to get your attention and ultimately your vote?
JONESI definitely agree with Michael about education, because, like he said, that's gateway to other opportunities and access to different resources. And I also feel like, you know, as we're doing today, youth involvement is something that I want to hear more people talking about because education where it really like matters and hits the most is when it starts young. So if you're having us involved as well as educating us on, you know, the opportunities that are out there for us and allowing us to go out like Taylor and Delonta and Michael have done to these different states and, you know, use our voice and advocate for ourselves and those around us. I feel like if a candidate were to talk to me about that I would be very intrigued and want to vote for them.
NNAMDIOkay, thank you. And your turn.
KOURTNEYMy name is Kourtney. And I was going to answer the question you asked Michael about like what I want like to be focused on. What I want to be focused on is the lack of recreation centers in our communities now. I feel like a lot of the people don't have nothing to do so they go out in the street. They get killed. They sell drugs. They do drugs. And I feel like that's a problem because when my parents was young they had recreation centers. They had programs and they had things to do.
NNAMDIWell, you just brought up an issue that we'd like to get to. So we might as well go there now. And that is local politics. When you talk about recreation centers in the District of Columbia you're talking about the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council. There was a response to me just mentioning the mayor's name here. Have you been -- and you're shaking your head no. Why are you shaking your head?
KOURTNEYWell, to be honest, my opinion, I feel like she doesn't really do anything. The only thing that we really have as youth is SYEP, the summer youth program.
KOURTNEYSYEP is the summer youth employment.
NNAMDISummer youth employment program.
KOURTNEYYeah. I feel like that's really what a lot of us do on like outside of school just to get money and to stay like on the right path, but I feel like Muriel Bowser, she don't really do anything.
NNAMDIBut does that make you feel as if you should get more involved in local politics? That all of the things that we've been talking with Delonta and Alexis about going to Virginia and registering people to vote, do you think that you should become more involved in local politics in order to try to make your elected officials do the things you think are important?
NNAMDIIn a word, yes. Now you have to go out and do it.
NNAMDIBut thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. Your turn, young man.
JAYLANMy name is Jaylan. I think one thing I really strongly want to see from my candidates is advocation for reparations. I feel like leveling the playing field for young African Americans by supplying them with generational wealth will help level the playing field for them being success.
NNAMDIYes. The movement for reparations has been a movement that has been going on for a very long time. It seems to be gaining new traction in this election, especially in the Democratic primaries so far. So you would like to see that movement for reparations expand. Would you be prepared to join and work for that movement?
JAYLANYes, to what extent do you mean, though?
NNAMDIWell, I mean you're still in school at this point, and obviously you have to focus on your priorities there. But when you are out of school or when you are no longer in school would you be politically active and join and organization that was called a movement for reparations?
JAYLANYeah, because that's something I really strongly agree. I really advocate for that.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Your turn.
ALICIAHi, my name is Alicia. And people like after school, they don't have anything to do. They don't have a job. So they want to go hangout with their friends and be on the streets and stuff, which is dangerous. And I believe there should be more like programs after school and stuff like to be done about it.
NNAMDIAnd I think you're really serious about programs after school and in school because you are here today, Alicia. And it is my understanding that today is your birthday and you are in school attending this event. So here's to you Alicia. Happy birthday. (applause)
ALICIAThank you. Yes.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us. Okay. We have another comment right here.
SAMMYMy name is Sammy Clark. But I feel like something that is really important to me is the gun violence that goes on in here, because like every week you always hear someone like got shot, died and stuff. And I feel like for me that's something I really want fight for -- fight against so that me and my friends we don't end up being like the next victim or something like that.
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, the last time we engaged with students from Thurgood Marshall Academy was in the wake of shootings that involved one student at Thurgood Marshall Academy, who was shot and killed some time ago, and we wanted to come back to broaden the discussion into politics as a whole. But we do know of your concern here at Thurgood Marshall and generally in Washington and in this community about gun violence. So that's the kind of issue that you would like to get involved in, the kind of issue that you would like to lobby politicians on?
SAMMYYeah, because I feel like these laws that we have on guns, they need to be more strict and like retained, because not even guns that comes from D.C. that comes from Virginia and stuff like that. So we need to get out there and fight for Virginia to have like stricter gun laws. So people here won't end up dying and stuff like that or all over the world.
NNAMDIWell, the work that Delonta and Michael and others did in Virginia seems to have led to some changes. And now the Virginia General Assembly, which was led by Republicans in the House and in the Senate is now led by Democrats in the House and in the Senate, and they say that one of their first priorities is gun reform legislation. So there might be a difference at some point in the gun trafficking that takes place between Virginia and the District of Columbia. But we've got to take another short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about what local students are thinking of national politics. We're coming to you from the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about youth civic engagement nationally, but also locally with students at the Thurgood Marshall Academy here in Washington. We're talking with Alexis Jones a 12th grader at Thurgood Marshall. Delonta Johnson is a member of the Mikva Election and Action Fellowship. He's also a twelfth grader at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Robyn Lingo is the Executive Director of Mikva Challenge D.C. And Abby Kiesa is the Director of Impact at The Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning and Engagement or Circle at Tufts University. Abby, I'll start with you. Why is it important for youth to be involved in politics even when they're not yet able to vote?
KIESAThere's a couple of things that I want to focus on. We just had a conversation about all these issues that young people in the room care about. And one of the things that we see nationally is that young people affect election outcomes, right? We've talked about young people working on campaigns. We've talked about young people uplifting issues like gun violence prevention during elections. And that's one important reason why young people who are not even eligible to vote should participate. We also see young people affecting other folks in their household. You know, possibly parents, people who they're close to and so young people are really important communicators to other folks who can vote.
KIESAAnd then finally, you know, one of the things that I think is underappreciated is the fact that when we have more people collaborating on community issues it's good for our communities. Not only are young people building skills that they can use in other areas of their life, but we have strong and thriving communities. We've done some research through Circle where the civic strength of a community can really help a community and support economic resilience.
NNAMDISame question to you, Robyn Lingo.
LINGOYeah. I mean, I think for us, we just think a lot about that democracy really at its heart is about including and listening to all voices, and all voices includes young people. We just heard young people talk about the things they notice and see and are aware of and the solutions they have to issues in their community. And there's real expertise that we know that students and young people have in this city. They're the only ones who take public transportation to and from school. They know how Kids Ride Free works a lot of better than the rest of us as adults. They know about the lack of rec centers and after school programs and how that affects their peers more than any adult does or at least in a different way than an adult does. And for us we think it's important that we start early in giving young people a chance to be heard about the issues that are important to them.
LINGOSo we host every year an event called Project Soapbox that simply asks every young person, what is the biggest issues facing you in your community? And what should be done about it? And each students writes and delivers that speech. It's an entryway to thinking about yourself as a civic actor and as a civic change maker, because you're asking each student to think about what is passionate to you and to call your community to action. And we would just say I would love for Mayor Bowser to come to Citywide Project Soapbox. It's December 12th. We've sent an invitation. She can hear some of the ideas from our students here at Thurgood Marshall Academy as well as other schools.
NNAMDIDelonta, what barriers have you found -- have you encountered when you've tried to participate in politics or on political issues?
JOHNSONBarriers, I haven't, like those certain opportunities given to me. So for like people who aren't really into politics and don't know how to get involved, I feel there's like a barrier for them. And me is also like getting those opportunities to speak out. Like Trayon White, he was here recently and we were given the opportunity to speak in a round table about the issues in our community.
NNAMDIDo you find, Alexis, that there is a difficulty in having adults listen to you? We as adults have a tendency to want to talk and sometimes talk down to young people. Do you find that that's a barrier to real engagement?
JONESYes. I think last week I spoke on a panel titled "Warfare to Healthcare" and it was talking about the war on black bodies due to gun violence and things like that. And I was the only young person on the panel, but there were young people in the crowd. And at the end they gave them a shout out. But they weren't talking. They weren't speaking or talking about their experiences. And one of the women on the panel was saying how the first time she encountered gun violence she was eight years old. But I know when she was eight years old nobody was listening to her. And it took her now when she's in her 30s or so to actually have people to hear her voice and to take into account what she's saying. And I only spoke once on that panel.
JONESSo I think that also goes to show, you know, that most of the time they were talking about, you know, promoting their organizations and what things they were getting involved in. And that's another thing, their organizations they talk about how, you know, they were trying to start an organization with only 20 people, 20 older men. You know, what is that doing for me? Why can't I be involved in the organization? It's just -- I feel like they say that they want to hear you, but when they hear what you're saying, I don't know. It's like something doesn't click.
NNAMDIDo you find that there was a tendency to more talk at you than talk to you?
JONESMaybe not at that panel, but in other circumstances sure, you know, well, my family used to be very involved in church, and we would have people over for dinner and they would talk. We always got from talking about Jesus to talking about political issues. And at that point it was like I was invisible from the conversation. My dad is very good about talking to me about current issues, and I mostly more so keep him involved than he keeps me involved. So when we were talking I would always try to assert myself and it would be as if they're like, yeah, okay, I get what you're saying, but anyway. Then go back into the conversation.
NNAMDIAbby, what other barriers exist that you've seen in your research?
KIESAYou know, I really think that Delonta hit on exactly what we should be talking about when we talk about barriers, which is that it's about access and not apathy. Young people get so many messages that their voices don't matter so we're actually working against a lot in trying to promote your civic engagement. But as we've heard today over and over again, we see evidence both stories and in data that young people care deeply about issues that affect them and the people who they love. And too often young people have had to take space, because older folks have not created diverse, visible, assessable spaces and processes for young peoples' voices to be included. So we have a lot of work to do on this in government and issue organizations and even and especially in polling locations.
KIESAThis is one of the things that we've been looking at, and many states actually have laws were 16 and 17 year olds can act as poll workers. And it's a great opportunity for elections officials to not only benefit from, for example, you know the high rate of people being bilingual amongst young people, but also to see how democracy works. And this is one of the areas where the Mikva Challenge nationally really excels.
NNAMDIAlicia, you wanted to say something else?
ALICIAYeah. Going on to the barriers things, I'm obviously not old enough to vote and I like I don't know much about politics, but that's also kind of like why I joined Mikva one to learn about politics and to learn more about the voting process and whatnot because even though like me and parents we talk about politics and whatnot sometimes I don't understand it. And sometimes they'll kind of like -- sometimes they won't speak to me about it. But like they'll be broad about it, but like they won't explain to me what's going on. So I feel it's that kind of thing.
NNAMDILiving in Washington can be complicated. I've been covering politics in Washington for more than 45 years and sometimes I don't understand it. So that's not a problem. You just have to, you know, kind of pay attention and get yourself more involved. The more involved you are the easier it will be for you to understand, but I'm so glad you said that. Alexis, one issue, it's my understanding that you care deeply about is gun violence, which came up earlier. You are a part of Pathways to Power, which will start here at Thurgood Marshall. Tell us a bit about the work you do with them and how your views on guns shape your political engagement.
JONESWell, Pathways to Power is a club started by Lauren from -- and because of students, who were killed here due to gun violence. And since I just, you know, I just moved here last year and I just joined the club really this year, I feel like it's really hard for me to speak on everything the club does. But it's very big -- it's a student activist led club and it uses student voices to get involved in the community and in the conversation on gun violence. When I was in Georgia that was the first time I felt like I had an encounter with gun violence and my best friend was killed, and it was just how did the person, who kill her get access to a gun that he was the same age as us. It didn't really make sense. So I feel like the question is where are they getting the guns from and why is a 19 year old able to get a gun without a license?
JONESAnd Pathways to Power does a great job getting students involved and into their community finding out the answers to these questions and how they can be active in solutions.
NNAMDIRobyn, in your work at Mikva Challenge you spend a lot of time helping students across this region think about what issues they are passionate about. What trends are you seeing?
LINGOYeah. I mean, I would absolutely that gun violence is one of the most prominent issues that comes up across the city. And I -- we opened this office of Mikva Challenge in 2015. So a few years before the Parkland incident and March for Our Lives and I would say throughout all of my time running Mikva Challenge, gun violence in D.C. has been an issue that young people in D.C. have raised up important to them and something that they know needs to be changed. And it is great to see the national attention that has come with the tragedy that happened at Parkland and the March for Our Lives.
LINGOBut I just also want to recognize that it's work that has been done locally here in this community for years, certainly before Mikva Challenge was started as well. And I think that one of the things I've noticed is that when you talk about gun violence in places like D.C. it's both about the access to guns that Sam talked about in terms of federal gun legislation. But it's also about all of the other issues that we've heard the students here raise up, mental health services, the need for more trauma informed care, the need for a public health response to the gun violence, the need for a chance for young people to have places they want to go after school that are engaging and interesting and offer them a lot of opportunities to learn, the need for a strong summer youth employment program, which we do have in the city.
LINGOWe are fortunate to be a partner with SYEP and we place students as interns for local elected officials and then local policy issue of giving young people a chance to work for city council members, for Attorney General Karl Racine, for deputy mayors and give them a chance to see how local policy is made. I think as well some of the issues that are always present for young people in this city especially in our current time are about gentrification and housing. And, you know, we often think of those as maybe adult issues, but they absolutely affect young people.
LINGOWe had a group of Mikva Challenge students, three years ago, who collected youth testimonials about the way the lack of affordable housing affects them as young people in terms of changing their path to school when you have to move a lot, or just being pushed into neighborhoods that you are not familiar with and in different communities or just watching the stress of their parents try to figure out how to afford -- I think we've seen recent research that D.C. is one of the most expensive cities dealing with gentrification more than any other. And that absolutely affects the young people who live the city.
LINGOSo I think young people have a unique perspective on issues, but they're absolutely the issues that all of us are concerned about in the city. I think one of the other pieces is probably about safe travel to and from school and also safe and accessible and free travel to and from school. And also free from any harassment along that process.
NNAMDII know that safe travel to and from school is huge, but, Delonta, how about statehood? The lack of statehood in D.C., does that affect your involvement in politics at all? Is that an issue you're interested in?
JOHNSONYes. It is an issue that I'm interested in because I think it's unfair and like the legislation has no equity towards D.C., because D.C. has a higher population that Wyoming. Yet they still have representation and government. Also D.C., the laws and policies made for D.C. they're controlled by legislation that knows nothing or virtually anything about D.C. and they live so far away. So how is it fair that they're making policies about a place they don't know anything about? And also D.C. has no voice in the impeachment. So I just think that is unfair.
NNAMDIRobyn, we're almost out of time, but you've taken students to Capitol Hill to advocate for statehood. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
LINGOYeah. A couple of years ago we were fortunate enough to partner with D.C. Vote and help coordinate some students from Ballou High School who wanted to go get a chance to lobby in favor of D.C. statehood and D.C. having fair representation in Congress. And we were meeting with various members of the House and their staff. And I was with a group of students who we got to meet with a staff member from another state who was representing. And the staff member asked us to have the meeting in the hallway. There were probably eight or nine of us including two or three students from Ballou. And afterwards I had a conversation with the students about what did they think. And they said, well, why did we have to meet in the hallway? And I said, why do you think? And we had a conversation about what it means to not have the representation and not be a constituent of somebody's office.
LINGOObviously we are represented by Congresswoman Norton, but in terms of being able to have a voting member of Congress, and so we just were able to have a really fruitful conversation about the effects of not being -- having a place to go to advocate for your case in terms of the federal government.
NNAMDIAnd I'm hoping that what we've had today has also been a fruitful conversation, because we're out of time. Robyn Lingo is the Executive Director of Mikva Challenge D.C. Thank you for joining us, Robyn.
NNAMDIAbby Kiesa is the Director of Impact at The Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning and Engagement or Circle at Tufts University. Abby, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIDelonta Johnson is a member of the Mikva Election and Action Fellowship and a twelfth grader at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Delonta, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Alexis Jones is also a twelfth grader at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Alexis, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIWill you all please give yourselves a round of applause? (applause) That's it for today. This show about what local students think of national politics was produced by Margaret Barthel and Cydney Grannan. Tomorrow all new stories that you have not been hearing since we've been paying so much attention to what's been going on in these hearings on Capitol Hill. We'll be streaming that show at noon and it will be on the air at WAMU at 9:00 p.m. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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