The members of the youngest generation of America are slowly growing to be the next deciders of the country’s fate. This is leading many younger people to start voicing their perspectives about the choices that should be made. One recent opinion piece in the Seattle Times, written by a high school sophomore named Riya Sharma, stressed the importance of youth lobbying as a means of advocating for the future.
As a fellow Zoomer promoting the need to express our First Amendment rights, I applaud Sharma for being actively involved in fighting for her beliefs and encouraging others to do the same. However, there is a different dynamic when youth step up and attempt to convince their legislators about an issue and it is essential to address this before demands are listed.
I want to highlight that I will always fully support youth lobbying. Young people have a right to express their opinions and their efforts should not be stifled. Yet Sharma’s piece features an emotional element that should be reconsidered.
There is a fine line between emotion and passion for an issue. Being passionate when one is lobbying is entirely justified. In fact, I would argue that it is nearly impossible to lobby for something without being passionate about the topic. The Founding Fathers’ passions for justice and freedom won a war against the country of their birth and created a new government built on liberty.
However, once passion turns into a routine emotional response, it can be very difficult to convince others of your position. When Sharma claims that she “cried in front of [a so-called climate-change denier’s] desk about low carbon-fuel standards” and thinks that she won’t be ignored, she might want to rethink her tactics. People in positions of legislative power have to inevitably deal with many people whose emotions overcome them, and it is likely that another young advocate crying about an issue will not necessarily be memorable.
One experience I had when visiting our state’s capitol earlier this year reflects how little impact raw emotion has when trying to reach rational conclusions. A friend and I had the opportunity to attend a pro-life rally in January. Despite the fact that the steps of the Capital building were packed and rain was pouring down, participants were in good spirits. This made one counterprotester stick out like a sore thumb. Her desperation to be heard was made clear as she shouted obscenities during the prayer and chastised students from participating schools.
When the rally ended, we walked by her shouts of rage and indignation, but something about our signs caught her attention and she approached us. When my friend tried to leave, the counterprotestor stopped her. As we calmly tried to answer her many questions, she was beside herself, barely allowing us to open our mouths before she crammed her rehearsed points down our throats. Behind her eyes, it was plain to see that her emotions had overcome her.
The fact that this counterprotester was grasping at anything in order to be recognized rings true of many young people that lobby for issues. In their desperation to voice their opinions, they overstep rational boundaries. Although this particular situation was memorable for me, it was not surprising. The protester I encountered was not wrong, and she wasn’t necessarily unjustified, but her conduct was offensive and ultimately reflected poorly on her and others who voiced the same opinions.
Riya Sharma as a high school sophomore is probably 15 to 17 years old, just a couple years younger than me. Thus, she is still unlikely to be of voting age. She mentions that “we are [elected officials’] bosses, and we have absolutely every right to be heard.” Yet, this is not entirely accurate. A priority of elected officials should be to listen to the concerns of their voters, but self-described sobbing 16-year-olds who are too young to vote aren’t in a position to demand attention.
Obviously, we shouldn’t be silenced simply because we are young, and I agree with Sharma: it is important to fight for our beliefs. But when we exercise our First Amendment rights, we need to remember that we don’t automatically command the floor. I think that lobbying can truly be a vehicle for others that may not have a voice, but this doesn’t mean that we have to have the loudest voice. Young people must never stop lobbying, but it is imperative that we keep rationality as a priority.