Historically, youth movements have played a central role in amending our Constitution. Students in the 1960s and 70s advocated for the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. These students were being drafted to serve in an unpopular, dangerous war. At the age of eighteen, they were unable to be involved in the political decision making process. Rather than despair, they rallied and organized. They chanted, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” They made history.
They found power in powerlessness, just as Americans who feel locked out of our pay-to-play political system are doing today.
Patricia Keefer is one of the key figures who spearheaded the ratification of the 26th Amendment knows what the blueprint for winning a constitutional amendment looks like.
The 1970 Supreme Court case, Oregon v. Mitchell, ruled that Congress had the right to regulate the minimum age in federal elections, but not at the state and local level. Congress then passed 26th amendment as a result of its increasing public support. In 1971, the 26th amendment was ratified in record-breaking time. The 38 states required ratified the amendment in just over two months.
Today’s youth carries on the spirit of citizenship exemplified in the 60s and 70s. The 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, spurred national, student-led demonstrations which have drawn political attention through all levels of government. National discussion has surrounded this movement, and especially the nationwide March for Our Lives. Necessary conversations are being had surrounding the outsized power of special interest groups. Now the challenge becomes: How do we translate political demonstrations into legislative solutions? As those who fought for the 26th Amendment know, it’s not easy, but it is possible.
Just as in the 1960s and 1970s, the United States is witnessing a powerful student movement. The students that took to the streets advocating for the 26th amendment are being followed by today’s students marching in the streets, in over 800 locations around the country, for gun control laws. Both are powerful examples of what an impassioned group of people can achieve with coordination and persistence. Gun violence, the Opioid Crisis, Climate Change, income inequality and much more are symptoms of a larger problem: money in politics.
The 28th Amendment is a foundational solution.