Look to Raskin and other candidates for positive change
While legislators engage adults about issues they think voters care about, they can be quick to leave students out of the democratic process and overlook their concerns. Although most students do not vote, they do represent a large portion of the population - but even in an area as politically active as Montgomery County, their views are rarely heard.
Education is always a top priority for politicians, but student issues are more complex than funding school construction and all-day kindergarten. Student concerns usually don't have a lot to do with easily definable, catchy-sounding stump issues, and it's important that they are given the chance to articulate their views to people who will listen.
High-school students cannot wait for legislators to start listening - they must be proactive and support candidates for public office who they feel will actively advocate for issues that are important to them.
Students can find such a candidate in local lawyer Jamie Raskin, who is running for Maryland State Senate in District 20, which includes Blair. In 1996, Raskin defended Blair Network Communications (BNC) when MCPS censored a BNC debate show on homosexuality. Raskin worked with Blair students and organized the community to convince the Board of Education to air BNC's show on MCPS instructional television.
Building on his work to protect students' rights at Blair, Raskin began the Marshall-Brennan Fellowship Program in 1999, a national project to educate high-school students about their constitutional rights and responsibilities. In the program, named for Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan, Jr., law students teach high-school classes about constitutional rights. The classes center around Raskin's book, "We the Students: Supreme Court Cases for and About Students," which Raskin wrote after working with BNC.
Raskin is not the only politician students can count on to listen to them. The 2006 election cycle poses a unique opportunity for student volunteers to have a substantial impact on local campaigns.
Hugh Bailey, a candidate for County Council, has stressed that, as a Council member, he will actively encourage students to voice their opinions before the Council on various issues.
In District 20, Raskin is joined by several student-friendly candidates running for Maryland House of Delegates. Tom Hucker, executive director of Progressive Maryland, a grassroots organization that advocates for working-class families, has expressed interest in having students visit Annapolis during the Maryland General Assembly to discuss their views.
Blair alumnus Aaron Klein first got his start in politics as Blair's senior class president, where he used his position in student government to organize students to lobby MCPS for the new building for Blair in the 1990s. Unlike other politicians, Klein has a unique connection with students because he attended Blair, making him one of the only candidates in Montgomery County to have attended MCPS. Former Takoma Park City Councilwoman Heather Mizeur also shows promise as a candidate who has listened to students on the issues and has taken their input seriously.
Hucker, Klein and Mizeur have all visited Blair to talk to students about community involvement and current political issues. In March, Bailey is speaking to the Blair Young Democrats, and Raskin is scheduled to meet with the Students for Global Responsibility.
The next steps
Although there is a shortage of elected officials who have made a concerted effort to listen to the youth voice, there is an abundance of candidates who have proven their commitment to students. Students should look for candidates such as these if they hope to have their concerns represented.
As students become more active, their concerns will gain credibility among elected officials. As the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone said, "The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines." Students need to become engaged in the community and involve themselves in the political process. Whether it's volunteering for a campaign, organizing students to contact legislators or just signing a petition, students need to speak up if they expect to be heard.
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