Some 1,000 high school students from 38 cities in Northern California today attended a youth empowerment forum, making their voices heard on the issues of the day.
Hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union at the University of California at Berkeley, the forum gave students – most of whom are below voting age – a chance to speak out on Proposition 38, the school voucher initiative, and the upcoming presidential election.
Shayna Galender, event coordinator and first-year student at Oakland’s Mills College, said the teens were united in their opposition to the ballot initiative that would give parents $4,000 state vouchers to send their children to private schools.
“The youth voice is in consensus against the proposition, which would tear students out of public schools,” Galender said.
“Many spoke today about not wanting kids to be turned into dollar signs.”
The participants called on the government to provide more funding for public schools, instead of making them compete with private institutions, some of which have discriminatory application processes, Galender said.
Although teens are often characterized as apathetic when it comes to voting, those who participated today are everything but, Galender asserted. However, she added that many are wary of the two-party system and looking for alternatives.
“They are disillusioned,” Galender said, “but not apathetic.”
This is the 10th year that the ACLU has held the event, which last year focused on voter-approved Proposition 21, which lets prosecutors decide whether to charge juveniles as adults.
The day-long event has workshops, performances and presentations aimed at informing the participants about their rights.
Also discussed today were the role of gay clubs in schools, and the targeting of certain groups of students by school officials after the Columbine school slayings. One workshop taught participants about their rights in confrontations with police.