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Youth Activism Takes Many Forms in US


In the United States, voter turnout overall tends to be low compared to other developed countries. About half of voters under the age of 34 eligible to vote in the most recent presidential elections did so.

But many of America's youth are politically active in other ways, rallying support for political causes on college campuses, volunteering at political rallies, or running for public office. VOA's Suzanne Presto has spoken to politically active young people, whose passion for politics more than makes up for what they lack in years of experience.

Across America, when people run for political office, their families often join them on the campaign trail.

It was no different on a bright November morning outside a Maryland high school, where a crowd assembled for a campaign announcement, homemade posterboard signs in hand. Two young women behind the podium, ages 19 and 21, took a deep breath before launching into a speech to introduce a family member.

But the young women weren't describing their father, grandfather or uncle. They were talking about their only slightly older brother, "I announce with great pleasure my candidacy for Maryland's House of Delegates," said Mr. Cirincione.

Mr. Cirincione just graduated from college in May. And, for his first post-college job, he does not want to work behind the scenes for a politician. He wants to be a politician, at the age of 22.

"I think that's a good thing, because so many people think the youth in this country, in this state, in this county don't really make an impact. But, in fact, they do," he noted.

Many of the roughly 56 million U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 34 are making an impact, and not just the 25 million who cast ballots in the 2000 presidential polls.

On college campuses, in politicians' offices, even in the halls of Congress, young people are shaping the future through politics.

They volunteer, they advocate, they campaign.

And some, such as Mr. Cirincione, run for office themselves. Some have already attained political office, despite, or even because of, their youth.

Will Campos is in his first year of office as a local politician in Maryland, representing some 90,000 people. At 31, he is the youngest member of the Prince George's County Council.

"I was new to politics," he said. "I was so young. I'm the first Hispanic. I was the first immigrant to ever hold this position. When I was running, I had all these things stacked against me, including my age. People used [it] against me. But that was the one thing that I used to outwork everybody quite frankly, because I could. When everybody was saying, 'Oh, he's too young to do this or do that,' I was knocking on somebody's door, face-to-face, out there telling them I could do this job."

Mr. Campos, who looks even younger than his 31 years, enjoyed running against more seasoned politicians.

"I love being underestimated, and so that is perfect, because that lowers their guard," he noted. "When they lower their guard that is you take advantage of it and you just pound and pound. And that is what we did. I love being the underdog because I love proving people wrong. I mean, I've been the underdog all my life."

Mr. Campos says he didn't plan to become a politician, but he found himself drawn into politics when he was asked to be the county's Latino Liaison. He was looking for the chance to do even more for his neighborhood when he learned about the council position.

"This was a great opportunity to have a say in the community that made me who I am today," he added.

But not all politicians go to the office each day in the neighborhoods they represent or call home.

About 30 kilometers away from Mr. Campos' office in Maryland's suburbs, Patrick McHenry strides down a marble corridor in Washington. He is only 30, but he works in one the pinnacles of power in Congress.

"Some have joked I look like the average page on Capitol Hill, or the average intern," said Mr. McHenry. "So, that's a little challenge, just to get around Capitol Hill and that the capitol police recognize I'm a member of Congress, so I can get on the House floor."

Mr. McHenry is not just a member of America's federal legislative body. The North Carolina representative is the youngest member of the oldest group of legislators in Congress in U.S. history, where the average age is 56.

"So, essentially, to be the age of their children or grandchildren has its distinct challenges," he explained. "But, I would say, once you prove yourself with personal interaction with your colleagues, you're not regarded as a 30-year-old or a 29-year-old, you're just regarded as another colleague."

On the surface, it would be impossible to mistake the Congressman for his colleagues, even with his glasses, suit and early gray hair. But, once he speaks, it is clear that Representative McHenry is as serious, driven and civic-minded as his much-older counterparts.

"The founders wrote the Constitution, and they put in some age requirements that you have to be 25 to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. So, for me, I am fulfilling what I think the founders intended, to have a diverse group of men and women serving in the House of Representatives to be the people's voice," he said.

A voice that includes the more than 50 million young men and women who want their new ideas, their concerns, their ideals to be heard in the political world.

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