High School senior Sydney Down provided key support recently as the Cambridge City Council voted to send a home-rule petition to the Legislature seeking to lower the municipal election voting age from 18 to 16. Down, who attends Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, is a co-chair of the Cambridge Youth Council, which educates young people on how to advocate for themselves and to become leaders. Metro Minute reached out to Down to discuss why she feels youth activism is so crucial. (Comments edited for length and clarity.)
Why did you join the Cambridge Youth Council?
I feel I’ve always had an urge to be involved physically, politically, and socially. I think going in I didn’t know exactly what it would entail for me; it was just a way to put some action into a lot of things myself and other people feel. It ended up being a really amazing opportunity and it’s one of the best decisions I have made in my past four years.
Why are you so passionate about lowering the voting age?
The discussion around voting right now can begin with the fact that voter turnout is really more important than ever, and I think it begins with creating a habit of activism at a younger age. Also, when voting is the ultimate way of participation in the government, increasing voter turnout and lowering the age of voter turnout enables diversity and equitable representation. I think you see that, even throughout history, that voting has been used as a tool to be manipulated to maintain systems of oppression. I think those same values apply to young people and people under the age of 18 just as they do to people over.
Some people might say that students are too young to make educated and responsible political opinions. To that I would say that the responsibility then falls on adults and society and people in positions of power to provide the accommodations and the insight and the education that young people need to be able to make these educated and responsible opinions. I think that goes above and beyond striving for proficiency and fluency regarding civil action and how people get involved politically.
The Vote 16 movement overall, motivates civics curriculum and conversations about politics. I think ultimately it bridges an inter-generational divide and it fosters that collaboration and conversation between adults and young people.
What is your message to minors who would like to become activists in their community?
Defy the norm. Constantly question these constructed implications and limitations that are imposed on us. You can easily go through life being complacent, but I think that every person can find something that is their method of turning the tables. I would tell young people to continue to question the world that we live in.
What is your message to Massachusetts lawmakers?
Whether the home rule petition is passed or not, it is up to the state Legislature and it is up to many people who have blocked this action before and who have ultimately suppressed the voices of young people. From that state level you see that trickle down into our lower level government systems. To those lawmakers, I would say that your actions are influential to government systems below you and that in order to break the system of conformity, young people need to defy the norms of who is telling us that we can’t vote and the implications and limitations that are being put on us right now.