By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
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By Jill Stewart
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Though there are no official figures, according to Michael Feinstein, Santa Monica's Green mayor, a large percentage of the more than 151,000 registered California Greens are between the ages of 18 and 25. This is not surprising, given that the Green platform is basically made up of all the things we believe in when we have most of our lives ahead of us.
But party membership isn't the only thing going on here. Many of the people actually running on the Green ticket and winning elective office are eyebrow-raising young. For example, 21-year-old Heather Urkuski, Centre Township, Pennsylvania's auditor, was 19 when elected. Todd Jarrell, District 8 city councilman in Madison, Wisconsin, now 23, was 22 when elected. Joyce Chen, a New Haven, Connecticut, alderman, was elected this past November at 22. In Germany and Sweden, where the age limit for national office is lower, Anna Luehrmann and Gustav Fridolin, both 19, were elected to Parliament this past September. The Activist: "What's most important to me is social justice for the youth in my community." —Cindy Santiago, 18
Middle school and high school kids, not necessarily a group associated with political activism, are also going Green. For example, 15-year-old Kirk Podell wore a "Vote for Nader" sandwich board to Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Feliz during the 2000 campaign and was scuffed up by fellow students. He was 12 at the time. Eighteen-year-old Cindy Santiago made her foray into politics in the ninth grade, when she organized 250 students to "walk off" school in protest of Proposition 21, "an anti-youth proposition" that called for trying "youths as young as 14 as adults."
"What's most important to me is social justice for the youth in my community," says Cindy. "Right now I'm working with community groups to get better relations with the Police Department because there's police harassment and intimidation in my community."
When Prop. 21 passed, Cindy helped establish a community center in her neighborhood and worked with the mothers of the youngsters she felt were being tried unfairly. She's currently the Green student-body president of Santa Monica High. Even in such staid places as Iowa, 18-year-old Kevin Owens, a senior at Kennedy High in Cedar Rapids who was inspired by consumer activist Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, organized an anti-war protest this past October at which 50 students wore black armbands.
"I think what attracts young people to the party is the anti-war stance and decriminalization of pot. They seem to be interested in that," says Forrest Hill, a Green Party adviser at UC Davis, who is doing post-grad work in mathematical ecology. Hill, who attended the first Earth Day in 1970, talks to a lot of kids through his outreach work for the party. "The environment is naturally a priority to kids. I also think that kids are more sensitive to the social injustices around them. As we get older, our priorities change.
"I also think we have a youth bent because we are an activist party; we're in the streets, and kids like activists."
Whether or not youthful attraction grows into an adult relationship remains to be seen, but even some Democrats believe the Green appeal is more than infatuation. "I think they are on their way to becoming a major party," says Ed Espinoza of the National Committee of the Young Dem-ocrats of America. The Canvasser: “It’s the only thing I can do, ’cause I can’t vote yet.” —Alex Davis, 17
SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD ALEX DAVIS GOT INTERested in the Greens this past summer because of Bowling for Columbinedirector Michael Moore. "I read his book and saw his movie," explains the Palisades High senior. "I was listening to KPFK, and I heard him in an interview and thought he sounded really interesting. They actually tried to stop his book from being published 'cause he was making fun of Bush. They didn't want that after 9/11."
Alex, who saw the filmmaker's plea on his Web site for fans to "express their dissent" every day, canvassed an upper-middle-class Santa Monica neighborhood south of Montana with Green Party materials on a sunny Sunday last fall in preparation for the November 5 election. "It's the only thing I can do, 'cause I can't vote yet," says Alex, who excels at creative writing, recently taught himself Final Cut Pro, and hopes to one day make films like Moore. Alex, whose dad is a music producer, is inspired by the political rock band Rage Against the Machine and once met Rage/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello.
Handing out Green Party information door to door on the weekends during your senior year in high school may seem ineffectual against the Democrats' and Republicans' massive political machinery, but it illustrates a recent study by political researchers Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates that shows that while kids are turned off by the electoral process and corporate politics, they are turned on by community activism.
But it isn't just young people who are losing interest in our electoral process. Voter turnout in the 2000 national election barely topped 50 percent, only slightly less anemic than 1996's all-time low of 49 percent. For organizations such as the Center for Voting and Democracy that make it their business to study the "voter crisis," the problem is distrust in the political system and a scarcity of politicians people can actually relate to or believe in. With a population made up of almost 25 percent minorities, 50 percent women and close to 34 million individuals living below poverty level, the rich white men who dominate the ballots are just not cutting it for huge blocks of the potential voting pool.