Rising voices

The impact of student involvement in the political arena

Robert Liu

For many Americans, the recent midterm election provided an opportunity to wield their rights and make their voices heard. Even though citizens must be 18 to vote, MV students argue that the current youth, empowered through social media and other rapid information exchanges, has potential to bring great benefit to the political scene.

History teacher Bonnie Belshe is enthusiastic in encouraging student involvement in politics and uses her history classes as an opportunity to politically educate and empower her students. She believes that student involvement in the political arena is vital, and a society without adequate youth involvement could lead to an imbalance in voting constituents.

“We have to consider that we’re looking at generational tyranny if we don’t have the voice of younger generations involved,” Belshe said. “Last year, for all of my U.S. History classes, one of my students came in and presented to all of my classes, and we helped get everyone who’s eligible to register to vote to pre-register for that.”

Belshe believes that staying politically informed is a student’s responsibility.

That’s part of the responsibility that we have as citizen constituents in a democracy, is to do our part and our role with doing the research and being prepared.”

— History teacher Bonnie Belshe

“You should not just go in and blindly vote on what you’re looking at,” Belshe said. “That’s part of the responsibility that we have as citizen constituents in a democracy, is to do our part and our role with doing the research and being prepared.”

However, Sophomore Justin Feng, who was unaware of the midterm elections at first, does not see any reason to jump in on the fad.

“What election? I’m not aware of this,” Feng said. “Personally, I’m not involved in any political ideas because I think that politics are a huge waste of time.”

Feng believes students lack political experience and are not informed to make educated decisions; he predicts that an enfranchised youth could harm the country by making rash decisions.

“I think there’s a reason why the voting age is 18 years,” Feng said. “Youth don’t have the mental capacity to understand the complex political issues at hand right now. All the information that currently our youth is focused on is what they hear from their liberal echo chamber: from the media, from school and from their teachers. These people are making uninformed decisions and they will hurt the country by actively participating in political movements.”

Senior Melinda Ximen, however, sees value in the youth and their participation in politics, believing that it is crucial for politicians to acknowledge the perspectives of this significant sect of society. As an active participant in politics with experience as an intern at both the San Francisco Democratic Party and the Asian Law Alliance, Ximen advocates for students to at least acknowledge the field of politics.

“It’s something society really needs,” Ximen said. “Especially [at] MVHS, it’s easy to just do your own school work and pay attention to yourself, but it’s important to know what’s going on in politics because it does have a large influence on us.”

Belshe also advocates the various opportunities that exist for students to gain political experience and knowledge. She believes increased youth involvement can create a positive feedback loop by encouraging political involvement as a culture, thus leading to even more youth political involvement.

That way there becomes a culture of the expectation of voting and being involved.”

— History teacher Bonnie Belshe

“Whether that’s volunteering for campaigns, doing phone banking, working at polling places, these are all ways in which I think we really need more teenagers involved,” Belshe said. “That way there becomes a culture of the expectation of voting and being involved.”

But even with the plethora of resources and opportunities, Feng believes students should focus their primary priorities of being a student and leave adult matters to adults.

“The youth are involved too much in politics,” Feng said. “I think youth shouldn’t be focused on adult issues, but rather, on their schooling, having fun and enjoying their childhood.”

Belshe disagrees, believing adults can only do so much to increase youth involvement in politics, and it is up to students themselves to take the initiative in sharing their beliefs and increasing involvement in the political field through voting and related work experience.

“[As] adults, we can help give the venue, but [it is] really for letting student leaders have the place,” Belshe said. “I certainly try and show my passion for politics and my passion for voting, but we also really need to hear from students, because you listen to your peers a lot more than you listen to anyone else.”