Calling B.S. on Ageism: What the Response to the Parkland Shooting Means for Youth Rights

Posted by on April 17th, 2018

Protest sign saying "Armed with Ballots" A sign from the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C.

Yet another reason we should lower the voting age

The fallout from the Parkland shooting has brought the country’s attention to several facts that often go overlooked. Since the shooting, more people are starting to see that young people have an immediate stake in the way the country is run. And, secondly, thanks to student activism, people are starting to see that youth are willing and able to be politically active. This has led to many op-eds advocating lowering the voting age. More people now see the absurdity of claiming that politics is “not for kids” when “kids” are being killed in incidents that are highly politicized.

Of course, political activism is not something new that young people suddenly started to do two months ago. Young people have been major political participants from today’s Black Lives Matter movement to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and beyond. The fact that youth activism is starting to gain the recognition it deserves is a great step forward and has a tremendous amount of potential for increasing youth rights in general.

Pushback against the voices of young people

However, whenever young people attempt to be heard, there is a backlash. While much of the backlash in the case of Parkland is simply because gun control is a highly controversial issue, the Parkland activists have largely been attacked because of their age rather than the substance of the issues. They have been told by politicians that they are too young to be involved in politics. They have been accused of being pawns in a conspiracy by the liberal media. Their critics assume that young people “are not rational actors,” and that they are simply parroting what liberal adults say.

However, this argument quickly falls when we realize student have also organized walkouts in favor of the Second Amendment or against abortion. These protests show that young people are capable of participating in a variety of political movements as independent actors. Whether commentators think young people should participate in politics is largely dependent on whether they agree with the protestors’ position.

Similarly, whether or not students were punished for organizing school walkouts was determined by the biases of adults. While some schools supported students’ right to freedom of expression and assembly, others punished students harshly, including one school that notoriously, yet legally, hit students for participating in the walkout. Another school punished students because participation in the walkout would conflict with students “growing educationally, emotionally, and morally,” which, of course, is not a judgement young people are allowed to make for themselves.

“Making schools safer”

With any school shooting comes discussion about how to increase safety in public schools. However, we should recognize that school shootings command a disproportionate amount of media and political attention, compared to other serious issues. According to recent research, mass murders occur between 20 and 30 times per year, and only about one of those incidents on average takes place at a school.  And only an average of about 10 students per year have been killed by gunfire at school over the past 25 years. This is a very small number, compared with the over 35,000 gun deaths that happen each year, and yet politicians and the media spend a disproportionate amount of discussing how to make schools safer, rather than focusing on the country as whole.

It is easier to “ask” young people in school to make all of the sacrifices: to pass through metal detectors each morning, to put up with heightened levels of suspicion and more restrictions on freedom of expression. Of course, students don’t get asked at all what they think about these policies, as most would reject them.

It has been long established that increased fortification and policing of schools has a negative effect on students. More policing leads to more students being arrested, and worsens the school-to-prison pipeline. Such policies, in fact, have a negative effect on school safety overall, and do little or nothing to prevent gun violence.

Some of the “make schools safer” platform has also proposed arming teachers. This too is a burden for students. Not only is it intimidating to spend all day following the directions of an armed teacher, it is also dangerous. Since Parkland, at least one student has been accidentally shot by an armed teacher and there’s legitimate concern that armed teachers would disproportionately shoot students of color. But because young people lack other fundamental rights, it is easier to further whittle away at the ones that do exist.

Banning guns for people under 21

In the wake of the Parkland massacre, many advocates for gun control have called for raising the firearm purchasing age to 21. Stores such as Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger, and L.L. Bean have implemented store policies to refuse to sell guns to anyone under the age of 21. However, these policies are an ineffective and an unfair way to prevent another Parkland.

Raising the purchasing age would be ineffective at preventing mass shootings. Out of the 34 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, the Parkland shooter is the only person under the age of 21 who purchased the gun legally. On top of this, the vast majority of mass shootings are committed by people between the ages of 20 and 49. So even if raising the purchasing age were effective at stopping people aged 18-20 from committing mass shootings, then out of the 1,000+ deaths from mass shootings in the last 35 years, this policy would still only have saved tens of lives.

Second, raising the purchase age would be unfair because it would single out a minority group to sacrifice a freedom that many consider to be a Constitutional right. Of course, how we should interpret the Second Amendment is still an open question. But it is a double standard to say that owning a gun is a Constitutional right for people 21 and up (the ones who commit the vast majority of mass shootings) and yet to say that it isn’t a Constitutional right for people under 21 (who will continue to be victims of the mass shootings largely committed by older people). Once again, young people are being unfairly volunteered to make a disproportionate number of sacrifices to pay for the irresponsible behavior of older people.

Two young people, Tristan Fulton, 18 and Tyler Watson, 20, are resisting these unjust policies and are currently suing Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart for age discrimination. Fulton and Watson are residents of Michigan and Oregon, respectively, and these states both have statutes protecting young people from age discrimination. Both of these cases could set a future precedent for protecting young people’s rights and NYRA will be following them closely.

Where do we go from here?

This is a particularly interesting time for youth rights as we see more support for lowering the voting age as well as greater restrictions on youth rights in and outside of school.

We must take advantage of this opportunity to promote a lower voting age. A member of the Washington D.C. City Council re-introduced a bill to lower the voting age to 16  for all elections. When NYRA worked on this bill in 2015, the bill stalled because there wasn’t enough support for lowering the voting age. Now, because of the March for Our Lives, D.C. Council Member Charles Allen decided to reintroduce it saying: “It’s pretty hard for anyone to watch the events of the last couple of months and not understand the pure power and maturity of incredibly young voices… I don’t see how anyone could hear any of those voices and think that person couldn’t make an informed decision like anyone else.” Now more voting age campaigns are being organized and we have compiled a list of current campaigns to lower the voting age.

We must also continue to resist people using false narratives to single out young people with new restrictions. Targeting young people is not the answer. No matter what side of the gun debate individuals find themselves on, we should all come together and resist any attempts that try to scapegoat young people for the nation’s problems. We need to recognize that students don’t just have a right to safety, but a right to express themselves and make decisions concerning school policy. Of course, NYRA has always done these things, but now, it seems like a lot more people are listening.

Portland Student Rights Union joins NYRA to address Student Rights

Posted by on April 11th, 2018

Nine members of the Portand Student Rights Union: A NYRA Chapter Members of Portland Student Rights Union – A NYRA Chapter

We originally started the Portland Student Rights Union (SRU) in October 2017 to protest the administration of our school, the Metropolitan Learning Center Administration in Portland, Oregon, taking away all student breaks as a form of collective punishment. Even though we were an unofficial group, it was through our efforts, along with support from additional members of the student body, that the administration reinstated our breaks. Soon after, the school’s administration also banned the use of the Gadsden flag after a complaints when a students was seen showing it to another student. We explained to the administration that the students weren’t trying to offend anyone, but show their patriotism and support for Libertarianism and that they had a right to express their views in school. At this point, we decided that it would be important to be associated with the National Youth Rights Association, so, in February of 2018, we became a chapter. We joined NYRA for two main reasons: one, to provide us with backing and support for our causes by an organization dedicated to student rights, and  and two, to be make ourselves more reputable and have name recognition from other NYRA supporters. We are currently still working with the administration about the right to fly the flag and other student rights, but we are now considered an official club at our school. We are working closely with other students, our school leadership class, student committees, and school employees, to help further the rights of students and young people in general.

National Association Calls on DC Council To Make History, Lower Voting Age

Posted by on April 10th, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. April 10, 2018: The National Youth Rights Association applauds Councilmember Charles Allen for introducing the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018 today, and calls upon the DC Council to become the first location in the United States to permit 16-year-olds to vote for president.

In 2013 Takoma Park, Md. became the first city in the United States to lower its voting age to 16. It was followed by Hyattsville, Md. in 2015, by Berkeley, Calif. (for school board elections) in 2016, and Greenbelt, Md., earlier this year. All of these cities allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections, but Washington, DC would make history as the first to allow youth to vote in federal elections, including president.

When 16 and 17-year-olds went to the polls in Takoma Park their turnout rate was double that of older voters. Other countries where 16-year-olds have voted, such as Austria, Germany and Scotland have also seen higher rates of voter turnout among teen voters.

“Young people all across the nation are speaking up on issues of national importance, yet they are not able to vote,” said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, NYRA spokesperson, “this silences intelligent, passionate Americans who care about their communities and would turnout to vote if they had the chance.”

For many young people it is a matter of justice and equal rights.

“I pay taxes, I can be charged as an adult for a crime, I am affected by policy decisions, I demand a right to vote.” said local 15-year-old NYRA member Jennifer Zhang.

Like the hundreds of thousands of young people marching to make their voices heard, NYRA members will stand up for their right to vote in the District of Columbia.

After speaking to local NYRA activists in 2015, Councilmembers David Grosso and Charles Allen introduced a bill to lower the voting age to 16. It never made it out of committee, but NYRA is confident that this year’s bill will make history.

About NYRA:
Founded by students in 1998, the National Youth Rights Association is dedicated to defending the freedom, equality, and rights of all young people by challenging age discrimination and prejudice. NYRA has led campaigns to lower the voting age in DC and across the nation for 20 years and its expertise on youth rights has been sought by CNN, Fox News, PBS, the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, and many other newspapers, and media outlets.

Interview with CA Assemblymember Evan Low

Posted by on April 1st, 2018

Evan Low is a California Assemblymember representing the 28th District and is no stranger to ageism. When he hit the streets to run for Campbell City Council at the age of 21, voters answered their doors asking, “What school do you go to?” or said, “I have shirts and ties that are older than you!” Two years later he ran again, and was elected this time. At the age of 31, he successfully ran for the California State Assembly, and is still one of its youngest members.

We met with Assemblymember Low to discuss his background and how becoming politically active at a young age has shaped his perspective. We also learned about ACA-10, the bill he introduced to put a ballot initiative before voters to lower the voting age in the State of California to 17. Evan is working to secure the votes necessary to pass the resolution in the state assembly, and we’re thankful for his advocacy on behalf of young Californians!

MemYU Takes Tennessee by Storm

Posted by on March 5th, 2018

MemYU Chapter Members

We at the Memphis Youth Union (MemYU) have decided to develop our local campaign to state. Our goal? Extension of voting rights to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in local and state elections in Tennessee!

We are a NYRA chapter that consists of seven high-school-aged youth community organizers and one adult ally working with a local non-profit, BRIDGES USA, Inc. We first recognized the importance of voting rights for youth in 2015, when we realized the modern-day “taxation without representation” that has been affecting our nation. MemYU is also focused on both cultural and policy change – not only do we intend to change legislation, we have developed a campaign that gives vulnerable insights to the lives of Memphis youth, called YoMemphis! (Youth of Memphis!). We are currently working on building a coalition within Tennessee to strengthen the support and initiative around the campaign through a national convening.

In her recent article entitled The Case for Lowering the Voting Age to 16, MemYU member Brentley Sandlin, discusses the three cities in the United States that have already been successful in extending voting rights (Greenbelt, MD; Takoma Park, MD; and Hyattsville, MD). She points out that:

Youths are much more serious and responsible than dominant narratives give us credit for… [although] the fact remains that teens are taxed, yet we have no voice in how our money is spent within our own communities.

As we have continued to bring more attention to our cause, our campaign has growin in strength, and we hope to bring a proposed draft of legislation to Tennessee Congress beginning of 2019.

Memphis Youth Union (MemYU) is a NYRA Chapter working lowering the voting age and other youth-related issues. To learn more you can connect with them on their website or on their Facebook page.

#GivingTuesday coming up – triple your donation!

Posted by on November 22nd, 2017

There’s a very exciting opportunity coming up for us next week. On Tuesday, November 28th after 8 AM, the Gates Foundation is teaming up with Facebook to match funds to non-profits up to $50,000 for each non-profit. We also have matching funds from an anonymous donor, which means that any donation we receive through Facebook or through  after 8 AM on #GivingTuesday can be tripled! You can turn $50 into $150!

Will you support us? There are two quick actions you can take:

Action #1 – Create a Facebook fundraiser: You can set up your own fundraiser AND invite 10-20 friends to donate to NYRA.

  • Go to and select “Raise money.”
  • Select Non-profit; then National Youth Rights Association
  • Select the total money you can raise as $1,000, and make sure the fundraiser goes through November 28.
  • Select an image. You can use the one we created here: Facebook #GivingTuesday cover photo
  • On Tuesday November 28, at 8 AM EST, invite friends to the fundraiser.
  • Let us know!

If you can’t donate, this helps us to spread the word. Please email us to let us know you set one up so we can maximize our funds! 

Action #2 – Set a reminder to donate: This opportunity is only available on next Tuesday, and it starts at 8 A.M. (EST). It’ll be going for several hours, but it is better to donate earlier so that our chance of getting matching funds is increased. Going to will direct you a Facebook fundraiser where your funds can be tripled!  Join our event on Facebook.

An interview with the voting age activists of Greenbelt, MD

Posted by on November 17th, 2017

Members of the Greenbelt Youth Action Committee hand out flyers and campaign to lower the voting age
Jeremy Tuthill and Julia Sharapi of Greenbelt’s Youth Advisory Committee campaign to lower the voting age.

In last week’s elections, the voters of Greenbelt, MD voted 53% in support of lowering the voting age to 16 in local elections. This non-binding referendum was the first time that voters in the US have chosen to lower the voting age to 16 for all local elections.* NYRA staff interviewed two of the people, Ema Smith, Chair of Greenbelt’s Youth Advisory Committee, and Julia Sharapi, its Secretary, on their hard work in bringing about this historic victory.

NYRA: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in lowering the voting age?

Julia: Sure, I’m currently 17-years-old and I joined the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) just after I turned 15. At that point the Committee was looking into lowering the voting age, but it wasn’t a pressing issue for most of us. It was really Ema that pushed for it and it wasn’t until we did the research and I learned more about it that I thought it would be great idea – to be able to get that experience before going to college before I have to do it on my own.

Ema: In 2015, I saw in a local newspaper that the Youth Advisory Committee was going to look at the lowering the voting age and that really interested me in a positive way.  I joined the Committee and was still a new member when we sent in our first report. In 2016, I was elected Chair of the committee and I did more research on the issue and I’ve solidly stood on the side [of lowering the voting age] ever since.

NYRA: You mentioned that this was a two-year process. Can you walk us through that?

Ema: In 2015, a citizen proposed the issue of lowering the voting age to the City Council in response to what happened in Hyattsville [a town close to Greenbelt that lowered its voting age]. The Council referred this issue to YAC. We then researched it and came up with a recommendation to the Council to lower the voting age.

Julia: When we first talked to City Council they were hesitant. In 2015, they asked voters if they supported lowering the voting age and even though less than 20% of voters voted, a majority did not want it lowered. The City Council referred the matter to two boards: Advisory Board on Education and the Community Relations Advisory Board. We did more research and created presentations for these Boards. We also conducted a poll of high school students to see if they wanted to vote and would be willing to vote. Most 16- and 17-year-olds felt they were mature enough.

Ema: We also attended work sessions that really nailed down the specifics of the amendment and had a public meeting when the Council decided to put it to a referendum. We made brochures and canvassed different neighborhoods. I encouraged my mom to write a letter to the editor of our local newspaper. We attended voter rallies for City Council members and brought it up at city debates to keep it fresh in people’s minds.

NYRA: That’s a lot of work. When you were canvassing or talking to the public in general what was the response like?

Julia: Previously with the council, if they didn’t support us they were very polite about it. But during canvassing, we’d get people saying “No, you’re alright, but my grandkids are irresponsible,” and I realized “Oh yeah, there are people who don’t think this is a good idea.” It was unexpected.

Ema: With adults I generally try to explain the reasons why. Most people think it’s interesting and even if they aren’t initially inclined [to support the idea] they become more accepting. We got a positive response with young people. In the poll of high school students, we got 100 responses, and 89% said they supported lowering the voting age.

NYRA: What are the next steps?

Julia: The City Council still has to vote on it. We believe they will vote yes, but we’re also going to collect contact information of 16- and 17-year-olds to get them to attend the meeting when the Council votes on it.

NYRA: What advice do you have for other people working on lowering the voting age in their area?

Ema: Just make sure people are aware and that you educate the public on the arguments.

Julia: Keep it positive. It’s hard when you’re told that people our age are disrespectful and irresponsible, but we kept moving forward. We were nervous [the referendum wouldn’t pass], but it’s possible, if you really believe in something and believe it’s right.

NYRA: Thank you!

Are you inspired by the success in Greenbelt and want to start your own campaign? Check out our resources on the voting age and start a NYRA Chapter!

*Berkeley, CA voters agreed to lower the voting age to 16, but only for School Board Elections.

This interview has been edited for clarity.


Support the New!

Posted by on August 17th, 2017

NYRA’s current website was redesigned in 2011 and while it looked great for the time, it is now dated in both style and function. The current site doesn’t load smoothly, isn’t mobile friendly and hasn’t kept up with modern design standards.

So NYRA is now working on a brand new website, and we need your help. is a go-to resource for comprehensive information about the rights of young people and the fight against ageism. Our resources are used every day by students researching these issues, or people looking to take action for their rights. The website is an important tool for educating the public about youth rights, and it needs to be updated.

We are hiring professional designers to make really pop. Since we won’t be doing this in-house, we need to raise money to support the project. We have solicited bids and are speaking with web designers right now. The project will cost around $2,000-2,500. Will you contribute to make it happen?

$1,289.20 of $2,500 Raised

All donations are tax-deductible and will go directly to the website redesign project.

Speaking out against curfew laws in Fort Worth, TX

Posted by on January 27th, 2017
Fort Worth skyline at night

As night falls in Fort Worth, Texas, young people will have to worry about whether they will be stopped by the police just for being outside.

NYRA Chapter leader Bryce Hall spoke out against extending the juvenile curfew law in his home town of Fort Worth, Texas last Tuesday. He and other NYRA members attended the city’s Council meeting, where Bryce testified on the negative impact of curfew laws in his community. Unfortunately, the council decided to extend the curfew law for another three years. However, Bryce and other NYRA chapter leaders will continue to advocate for freedom of movement, voting rights, and youth rights in general. Below is a copy of Bryce’s speech to the Fort Worth City Council.

My name is Bryce Hall. I am a resident of the 91st district and am the current president of the Texas Vote16 Campaign, a campaign working with the National Youth Rights Association to ensure and support youth rights. My colleagues and I believe that there should be no further extension on curfew for Fort Worth teenage residents because any kind of government action of discrimination requires a compelling state interest. This means in order to restrict a constitutional right, you need to prove that this curfew laws actually stops crime. Curfew laws in other states have been found to be unconstitutional; is the City Council willing to spend taxpayer money to defend this law in court?

Let’s think about this rationally. Curfew laws are intended to stop young people from committing crimes by making them stay inside. If a person intends to commit a crime by stealing a car, vandalizing a home, or deal drugs why would they have any respect for another law that made it illegal to be outside? Aren’t laws against auto-theft, property damage, and drug dealing enough? Is policing otherwise law-abiding behavior the best use of police resources? In fact, violent crimes by juveniles peak in the afternoon between 3pm and 4pm and that rate of crime drops nearly 30% by midnight.

Also, many impoverished families have parents that work two jobs. Teenagers in those families have adult responsibilities, such as caring for his/her younger siblings. However, it’s very difficult to do so, with limited time.

Lastly, having a curfew can make it very difficult as a working teenager. For example, 80% of youth have current jobs, many of those jobs are requiring teens to stay until around 11:30pm. And, I myself am a waiter and my workplace gets very busy around 10:30-11pm. My economic responsibility should not be limited by a curfew. Job owners might even realize that curfew is a problem, and decide not to hire myself or any other hard working juvenile. I also have to worry about being stopped by the police and am not allowed to on an errand on my way home.

In conclusion, we believe there should be no time limit for the hard-working youth of Fort Worth that live a double-standard of having adult responsibilities, but not rights.

Youth Rights Election Results

Posted by on November 9th, 2016

NYRA Presents: Youth Rights Election ResultsWhile the shocking upset for president is at the forefront of media coverage right now, there were several youth rights issues on the ballot yesterday that should not be forgotten. NYRA is very pleased to announce victories on a ballot measure in Berkeley, California to lower the voting age and a non-binding ballot question to lower the drinking age in Massachusetts. The much anticipated Prop F in San Francisco that would lower the voting age to 16 for local elections looks like it will lose narrowly. Finally, voters in the town of Oregon, Ohio approved a new curfew law.

Victory in San Francisco looked promising last night, with 53% of the vote in favor of lowering the voting age with 40% of precincts reporting. Unfortunately, the winning side switched as more ballots came in. Currently, with all precincts reporting it looks like lowering the voting age in San Francisco will lose 47% to 53%. Late-arriving vote-by-mail and provisional ballots still need to be counted, but it doesn’t look like that’ll be enough for victory.

Such a close result is still historic for supporters of a lower voting age. The campaign was unquestionably the best organized and most active one for a 16-year-old voting age that this country has ever seen. Vote16USA summed it up well:

This weekend, youth leaders and campaign staff in San Francisco mobilized 169 youth to support the campaign. Youth filled 191 shifts, called 16,000+ voters, sent personal text messages (a highly effective digital organizing tool) to 25,000+ voters, and hit the streets to engage with voters around the city.

NYRA members and others across the country helped phone bank for the Yes on F campaign, and it is truly inspiring to see how far the campaign had come.

But there is plenty of good news today. Measure Y1 in Berkeley California passed with a resounding 68.1% of the vote. The measure provides for 16 & 17 year olds to vote for the School Board Director. Berkeley will become the third city in the United States to allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. After years of fighting for a lower voting age by NYRA-Berkeley, the campaign was picked up by a new generation this year and yesterday saw victory.

We have great news for the campaign to lower the drinking age as well. NYRA member Matthew Malone made the case that the drinking age of 21 was age discrimination against young people. Voters agreed. The non-binding measure in Amherst, Massachusetts was won with a vote of 8,483 in favor to 8,173 against. While non-binding, the measure instructs their state representatives to introduce legislation to lower the drinking age to 19. The president of the Massachusetts state senate, Stan Rosenberg, represents the district. NYRA is glad to see this vote succeed and show the support that voters have for lowering the drinking age and their opposition to ageism.

Matthew Malone told us that, “The voting results of this ballot question on the drinking age shows that there is public support for a lower drinking age and voters might like the idea of a split-age drinking age.”

He vows to continue fighting for a lower drinking age in Massachusetts. This won’t be the last measure that goes on the ballot.

The National Youth Rights Association is dedicated to defending the freedom, equality, and rights of all young people by challenging age discrimination and prejudice.