There are lots of ways you can express your political views and make a difference for the issues you care about. You might already do some of the following:
- Volunteer for an organization working on your concerns.
- Write letters, send emails, make calls, and sign petitions to elected officials.
- Use social media to tweet, Instagram, Snapchat, blog, or podcast your opinions.
- Join and speak out at marches and rallies.
- Support political campaigns by canvassing voters via phone banks.
- Talk with each other, your family, and neighbors.
- Attend The American Legion’s Boys State and Girls State mock legislatures.
- Participate in National Model United Nations.
But, one action you probably haven’t considered is running for office. Of course, you’re busy with school, sports, jobs, and extracurricular activities. And campaigns are expensive. Another, more fundamental, reason this might not have occurred to you is the US Constitution and your state’s constitution, both of which are littered with limitations on who is eligible for elected positions.
Teachers and other youth leaders encouragingly say, “You can grow up to be anything you want—even president of the United States!” They’re not necessarily right, though.
- The Constitution states that you have to be at least twenty-five years old—and a US citizen for at least seven years—to run for the House of Representatives.
- Standards for the Senate are even higher—thirty years old and a citizen for nine years.
- The requirements for the presidency are the toughest. Candidates must be at least thirty-five years old and a resident within the United States for fourteen years—and they also have to be “natural born citizens,” even though no one knows exactly what that means. About a third of American citizens are ineligible to become president.
Okay, if you can’t vote yet, you also aren’t likely to amass the necessary funds or lead a campaign, and if you win, you can’t move to Washington, DC. But what about offices closer to home? Teenagers in Kansas and Vermont are taking that challenge seriously. These are the only two states whose constitution does not establish a minimum age requirement for elected office.
Sixteen-year-old Jack Bergeson is running as a Democrat in the 2018 election for Kansas governor because, he says, “politics is kind of degenerating in our country.” Having lost faith in the ability of his parents’ and grandparents’ peers to fix things, he’s concluded, “we need the younger generation to get involved.” The problem, he writes on his Indiegogo website, is that “young people seem disenfranchised from the political system, and I aim to fix this issue.”
Bergeson has already succeeded: he convinced his friend Tyler Ruzich to run for governor of Kansas as well. Seventeen-year-old Ruzich plans to file as a Republican. He faces opposition, however, from another teen, Ethan Randleas. If Bergeson and either Ruzich or Randleas win their primaries, voters in Kansas will be able to choose between two high schoolers for governor. “If you’re our age, you’ve got to do it,” Ruzich said.
Thirteen-year-old Ethan Sonneborn, who lives in Bristol, Vermont, agrees and is getting campaign advice from Bergeson for his run at the highest office in his state. “We’ve seen a lot of apathy from young people when it comes to politics,” Sonneborn says. “Even before they’re old enough to vote, we need young people to be involved. They need to be able to fight for their future.”
Bergeson’s campaign website clearly sets out his policy positions. For instance, he supports the right to carry guns in public, and he wants to legalize marijuana for medical and, possibly, recreational uses. Sonneborn’s platform, too, supports legalizing marijuana as well as providing health care for every American. Whether you agree with them, maybe they speak to you and your generation in a way that most other officially registered candidates do not.
Since they’re starting at the top, it’s unlikely any of them will be inaugurated in January 2019. Neither Sonneborn nor Bergeson will be old enough to vote for themselves next year. Meanwhile, though, perhaps they can participate in debates with other candidates and contribute important and different perspectives to the discussion.
You might not want—or be allowed—to reach for the governor’s office in your state. But, could you imagine running for your state legislature? That’s what high-school senior Tahseen Chowdhury is doing in New York. Or, how about city council, school board or county commissioner where you live? After all, voting for—or against—laws, regulations, ordinances, and policies is where the real action is.