Too young to vote, old enough to hope

The youth vote in this November election will be comprised of the 18 to 29 years olds (sorry, I put under 30 in “youth”) who are registered to vote – or can get an absentee ballot sent to them wherever they are.

The “youth” of America, though, who will be participating everyday up to the moment at the voting booth, includes young minds in high schools and hardworking families across the country, and from all different parts of town. They watch the same nail-biting debates we watch, see over and over the same campaign adds we see, contemplate and are struck by (some, maybe not all of) the same issues we are – and they may not have a ballot in their hand, but at their age we (the over 18 year-olds) were doing what they are doing: thinking critically.

Thinking critically may not have been what 13 year old Jelani Wilson was doing when he snatched an “Obama ‘08” car window sticker from the outstretched hand of a Young Democrats volunteer, about to hand one to me.

“These free?”

He piped, quickly enough to hear a distant “Sure” before jumping off the curb and bouncing over to his friend waiting on the bench. Observing this little ball of energy, who clearly seemed to know his way around Denver with an ease I did not, I passed over the sticker offer and cautiously crossed the busy 16th street mall for a chat.

“That going on your car? Or, your window?”

“Yeah!” He smiled back.

Jelani was 13 and Zakk Rice was 14, and both were enjoying a sunny day in their mobbed hometown, now home to the Democratic National Convention. They said they might go home to ask for money for a movie. Home, Zakk explained, was somewhere in East Denver, just far enough from “the ghetto parts” and just close enough to the Recreation Center, where kids can play basketball “and stay out of stuff.”

After talking a bit about the first year of high school (myslef a happy survivor) at Manuel High School, Zakk said with a small smile, “its tight, not that many people are there though, there aren’t that many people in my school.” But what was intriguing to me about these young boys was how big Obama fans they were. With bashful eyes but a strong voice and sporting the familiar face on his t-shirt, Zakk described to me how Obama will make things better.

“I’m hopin he’ll win, and make a change.” When I asked what kinds of things they think Obama can change for them, Zakk said, “well the gas prices…you know… I wana go places, but I can’t my mom can’t drive me it’s too expensive. I have to catch the bus…or the lightrail – but they’ve cleaned the lightrail up a lot, now that’s more expensive. And the taxes – those are real expensive too.”

He said everything was getting cleaner, shifting in his seat to glance around his shoulders at the walkways cluttered with visitors, “maybe for the convention” he added.

There was a lot to see on the 16th street mall in Denver this weekend; t-shirts to buy, rallies to join. But the energy of the Democratic Party may have been found in its most genuine form inside these two little boys. Young Americans, perhaps without a ballot to cast, but with a heart to hope. It is in them that I, a 20 year-old constantly bombarded by political propaganda, finally saw Obama’s ellusive words of “hope” and “change” brought colorfully to life. Perhaps it is those with a ballot in hand who can remember that.

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