Come November 4, they won’t even be able to vote. But for some motivated teenagers, that disenfranchisement doesn’t translate into disinterest.
“Even though I can’t vote doesn’t mean the issues don’t affect me,” says Sam Chatto, a 17-year-old senior at South Portland High School who volunteers several days a week at the Barack Obama campaign office on outer Forest Avenue. He worries how he’s going to pay for college, and talks about how the deaths of several South Portland natives in Iraq affected his community. After the Democratic National Convention, Chatto wanted to show his support for Obama in a substantive way — more than a sign on his lawn or a sticker on his car. “It’s something different to actually come in and make phone calls,” he says.
Indeed, for the high-schoolers who volunteer regularly at Obama’s Portland headquarters, time is all they have to give.
“If I couldn’t contribute my vote, I thought I could contribute my time,” says Alex Friedland, a 15-year-old sophomore at Waynflete.
Emma Scanlon, 16, who attends Catherine McAuley High School and comes in to the Obama campaign office almost every school day, says that “in a time that’s so important for young people and women, not having a vote made me feel sort of helpless.” How empowering, then, to sit at a bank of computers and make phone calls to potential supporters, talking with them about the issues, or to go out on the streets and register voters — typical tasks for volunteers young and old.
Along the way, they meet some characters — like the woman who told 16-year-old Maddi Rudman, a Falmouth high-schooler, that she supported “Barack Obama and Sarah Palin;” or the man who identified as a “Monarchy Party” member on his voter registration card. Scanlon was snapped at on her second day of calling, and it was then that she “realized that this was going to be a serious thing.”
Neither the Maine GOP or the Maine Obama campaign could furnish exact numbers for how many high-school volunteers they have during this campaign season. But both said they have scores of young people working in offices around the state. It’s a win-win situation; while the campaigns benefit from an influx of young, eager energy, the students gain valuable insight into politics — insight that might come in handy down the road. Kenny Laughton, for example, a serious, bespectacled senior at Cheverus, knows he’d “like to work in a government as a career.” Plus, both parties know that it’s good for business to get young people involved early.
But the most appealing of all might be the chance to be a part of real-world politics.
“Student government doesn’t [get] a lot of respect,” Scanlon says. And it all seems like small potatoes “when you can be a part of actually moving history forward.”