By Eric Wang
North Penn High
If student activism at North Penn High School is any indication, 2020 presidential candidates had better take notice of young people’s involvement in politics.
While hundreds of students packed into North Penn High School’s auditorium earlier this year, others stood on stage, acting as political candidates for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
These students spoke with passion, enthusiasm, and conviction. They were thoughtful and articulate, and it was clear from their presentations that they had done their homework. They deliberated on hot-button issues that affect them and the nation at large.
This event is indicative of a growing movement of young people who are becoming more engaged in civic discourse around the country.
High school students may have a seat at the table, but their voices are usually drowned out when it comes to affecting change through the political system. However, high school students are beginning to make a difference through efforts such as simulated political conventions, organized political clubs, and campaigns to help and encourage more people to vote.
“My political involvement does stem from the fact that I want to promote Democratic values,” said Divya Sood, president of North Penn’s Democratic Club. “But I also think that in a larger context, it’s about working with different types of people, connecting them with different opportunities and helping them contribute to a wider world. It stretches beyond politics.”
Divya, who is now a senior, started the club in her sophomore year with just two of her friends. The club now has over sixty members. She also works with her school’s Republican Club to organize voter registration efforts.
Out of 166 eligible high school voters for the 2018 midterms, the club registered 110 students. North Penn’s Democratic Club has also given students opportunities to speak and interact with politicians such as Madeleine Dean, who represents Pennsylvania’s 4th congressional district.
You see, Divya is on a mission. She’s a person in perpetual motion. She recently appeared on North Penn’s morning TV show, telling about 3,000 students the importance of voting, and giving a tutorial on how to vote in the 2020 primary elections.
Divya is not alone in her involvement in politics. She also leads the statewide High School Democrats of Pennsylvania, which is a chapter of the national High School Democrats organization.
“Our generation definitely gets the stereotype that we are very disengaged and cynical,” Divya said. “But I feel like we are making strides in getting more involved in politics. Our generation is definitely gaining more traction in the political sphere.”
For the most part, young voters are not driven by partisan politics. Rather, they seek cooperation and an open dialogue.
“People are too divided along Democrat and Republican lines — stuck in their ways,” said Eric Nicholson, president of the North Penn Republican Club. “I have friends with completely different views, but we can talk about politics and agree to disagree.”
With a growing awareness, young people are mobilizing and giving voice to those issues that affect them.
When a shooter killed 17 people at Parkland High School in 2018, over a million students in America and around the world organized the March For Our Lives, a walkout to advocate for gun control. And late in 2019, Greta Thunberg, a 17-year-old climate activist from Sweden was named Time magazine’s Person of the year.
Many of the students who organize these movements aren’t old enough to vote, but they are making a significant impact outside of the voting booths.
Divya, who wasn’t eligible to vote until earlier this year, cited several ways a young person can make a difference without voting. “Internships, volunteering for a campaign, registering voters, or just picking an issue and trying to see what you can do to address it in your community,” she said.