As Nelson Mandela tried to teach us, education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world, yet, although the power of knowledge has no limits, it serves as only the means to an end – it is the people, their efforts and participation, what is needed to make an impact on our societies.
Elections and direct or indirect democratic systems represent only some of the ways citizens can have a say in the matters of their countries, but even so, young people are often left out. The engagement and influence of the youth are circumscribed and neglected; students and young people can be active at their schools or in their communities, but on a national level, their importance is overlooked, and their impact limited by the voting age of 18. What the general population needs to be convinced of is the fact that the Vote@16 initiative is a response to a new reality of high schoolers being politically active and worthy of a bigger say.
The topic of the most fitting voting age was, after all, the baseline of our Study Session in Budapest last week, which was prepared by the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU) and the Council of Europe. With a colleague of mine, I had the chance to represent the Czech Secondary Students’ Union (ČSU) and partake in many discussions, seminars, and informational sessions, all designed and planned to help us define our own Vote@16 campaign. After a five-day long exploration of the ways we can advocate for the reduction of the voting age, we have returned with an action plan tailored to our republic’s needs and a vision of how to support and ensure democratic participation of youth through voting at 16.
The Study Session itself consisted of many different parts; starting with defining our democracies and getting to know the situation of other participants, we moved on to the topic of lowering the voting age. We heard from speakers who talked about their advocacy and about the ways they ran campaigns in the past, and this way, we arrived at the core of our goal – we discussed the impacts of a possible reduction of the age for voting and shaped our own opinions on the issue. Based on the gained theoretical knowledge, we concluded the Study Session by developing and presenting a plan for our initiative, the objective of which will be – as idealistic as it sounds – the institutionalisation of lower voting age.
For me, this Study Session was much more than just learning and working. Told about the importance and amazingness of OBESSU events beforehand, I came to Budapest a little nervous, uncertain whether I would be able to contribute even with my limited activist experience, and unsure what everything would look like. Believe it or not, I managed to shed this nervousness and anxiousness instantly after meeting the organisers and participants, and especially after receiving a glass of soda which I was able to enjoy on a balcony with a terrific view of the Hungarian capital city while discussing what words or phrases, sometimes highly specific, we could say in each other’s mother tongues. Although certain unfortunate and alarming issues needed to be addressed, the organising team prepared an unforgettable event that allowed me to meet many amazing people and also deeply immerse myself in the Vote@16 initiative and advocacy as a whole.
Written by: Ondřej Szkandera (ČSU)