Think young voters don't have power in this country? Think again.

The 2018 midterm elections are rapidly approaching, and many — especially first-time voters — believe that they will make an impact on our government.

After the devastating Parkland, Florida shooting in February, young people came out in droves to protest America’s existing gun laws and call on all lawmakers to do something about them. When little action was taken, the protestors threatened to unseat them in the 2018 midterm elections, saying that young voters will decide the outcome.

Photo via Unsplash/Jerry Kiesewetter.


While several polls suggest voters ages 18 to 29 are registering to vote this years in higher numbers than in previous midterm election years, it’s difficult to say whether or not those registering will actually cast their ballots this November.

That’s why young people across the country are making it a priority to inspire others, young and old, to use their voting power in these pivotal elections.

Not only are they helping newly eligible voters get properly registered, they’re also keeping the election a constant conversation in their community so it doesn’t lose its potency.

And, thanks to School the Vote, a campaign run by DoSomething.org, largest tech not-for-profit for young people and social change, these young voter registration members are making an even greater impact.

Here’s a look at four of them:

Lindsey Luis Washington from Vancouver, Washington is helping prospective voters weed through the fake news on their candidates.

Photo via Washington. Used with permission.

Even though she’s only 17, and not quite eligible to vote, she runs voter registration tables at her high school and in her town. She’s also part of a project called Democracy Now!, which plans to canvas the neighborhood and carpool voters to the polls on election day.

“I truly believe youth are the future. We are living in a time where what is occurring in this world affects each and every one of us in some way,” Lindsey writes in an email.

She recognizes that historically, young voters don’t turn out as much in midterm elections, but at the same time, the activism her generation’s sparked in response to the dissatisfaction with the status quo over the past two years has been extraordinary. Thanks to the internet and social media, they’re tuned in to the issues that affect them, and can see a direct path to making themselves heard.

However, Lindsey notes that the flood of information her generation receives daily can also work against them, especially when it comes to voting. It’s becoming harder and harder to separate genuine reporting from fake news, and as a result, they’ll end up sharing articles and opinions that skew the facts and incorrectly tarnish political candidates.

Of course, that’s hardly just a habit of Gen Z’s, but Lindsey’s doing what she can to curtail it by regularly fact-checking her own posts and the candidates she supports, and encouraging her peers to do likewise.

Megan Dombrowski from Detroit, Michigan is spreading the message that every vote really does matter.

Photo via Dombrowski. Used with permission.

Megan’s main motivation is to turn the enthusiasm she’s seeing among her peers into actual votes, because she knows that even a few hundred can swing an election. Like Lindsey, she’s manned registration tables, and keeping voting relevant through campaigns like “Get Out the Vote.”

“In the 2014, only 15% of voters aged 18-24 turned out to vote,” says Megan. “Our demographic is large enough to swing elections and elect representatives who are willing to listen to us. If we do not stand up and participate in our democracy, we have no right to complain about what is happening.”

Unfortunately, she feels like her generation is susceptible to the negative narrative around politics today, and that may dissuade them from voting.

“Many brush off elections as no big deal, and say that they’ll just vote for who their parents are voting for. It’s time for all of us to realize that our vote is our voice, and that everyone of ours’ is important.”

That said, she’s so grateful to be working with DoSomething to help more people realize the significance of voting. The organization’s incredibly user-friendly, and someone’s always available to answer questions, no matter how big or small.

Her ideal political system would include new voters being automatically registered, gerrymandering outlawed, and women, minorities, and young people running for office in record numbers. Thanks to women like her, that’s no longer out of reach.

Meanwhile, Amethyst O’Connell from Roseville, Minnesota is focusing on the college demographic, because they often need extra encouragement to vote.

Photo via Amethyst O'Connell. Used with permission.

Last year, as the Student Senate President of Saint Paul College, they were part of a massive statewide voter registration campaign on National Voter Registration Day that helped 1,313 people get registered.

Amethyst believes it’s incredibly important for students to vote because legislation, especially on the state level, can have a major impact on their education. They know this from first-hand experience:

“I graduated from Saint Paul College debt-free due to a pilot program, the Minnesota Occupational Grant program, that was signed into law by my state legislators,” writes Amethyst in an email.

However, despite what legislation like this has done for students, college life doesn’t make voting easy. For one thing, housing insecurity is a real issue, which can impede voter registration. And busy college students will often be turned away from voting booths because they don’t have up-to-date voter identification. Juggling class, work and other school responsibilities can be a major deterrent as well.

But Amethyst does their best to convince them why it’s worth navigating through all those obstacles so they can vote, especially in local elections.

“The elections that are the most likely to affect your day-to-day life are the local elections, and ironically, the elections that everyday people tend to ignore,” they explain.

Veniece Miller from Fruita, Colorado spearheaded a youth voting initiative in her small town, because she wants to get as many 18-year-olds to the polls as possible.

Photo via Veniece Miller. Used with permission.

With the help of the nonprofit, Western Colorado Alliance, she trained students in her community to hold voter registration drives in their schools. Now there are 25 student ambassadors holding drives this fall.

“If society has taught us anything in the past year, it is that students can make a real difference. They are engaged, knowledgeable, and ready to take part in our right as citizens of the United States,” writes Veniece in an email.

Unfortunately, she notes that civics is woefully underrepresented in our country’s education system, so many voting age youths won't even learn about the voting process until well after an election.

“Youth can feel the imposter effect; like they are not knowledgeable enough or qualified enough to vote,” she explains.

So Veniece is raising awareness by getting as many 16-year-olds pre-registered to vote as she can, so they’re primed when they become eligible to vote. She’s also helping young voters see how quick and easy the registration process is.

“A short one hundred years ago, my gender did not have the right to vote. An even shorter 49 years ago, my age did not have the right. I feel a great sense of responsibility to those that have gone before me that have fought and gained the right for me to vote.”

We are coming to a pivotal moment in our country’s history where our youngest voters could change the landscape of our government. With youth leaders like these, the chances are looking good.

“The more youth that vote, the more voice we are gaining, saying to our representatives that we are here and holding them accountable,” writes Veniece.

But that responsibility isn’t not just up to them, it’s up to all of us to show up if we want things to change.

Learn more and register to vote in just two minutes at DoSomething.org.

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Here's to the stepdads who step in and step up to fatherhood.

Happy Father's Day to all the stellar stepdads.

Some fathers are there at the starting line. And some fathers step in partway through the race.

My biological dad left my mom when I was a toddler. I don't even remember living with him, and my memories of weekend visits throughout my early childhood are vague. He loved me, I'm sure, but he eventually slipped off the radar. He wasn't abusive or a massive jerk or anything. He just wasn't there.

Who was there was my Dad. My stepdad, technically, but for all intents and purposes, he was and is my Dad. He stepped in when I was four, and stepped up to raise two kids who weren't his. He went to the parent-teacher conferences, attended the school plays, surprised us with trips to the ice cream shop, taught us how to change a tire. He loved us, not just in word but in action.

As a parent myself, I now understand how hard it must have been to step into that role. Step-parenting involves unique relationship dynamics, and you have to figure a lot of things out as you go along.

My Dad had his own demons from his own childhood to deal with on top of that, and his cycle-breaking parenting still awes me. But he was always there to cheer me on, comfort me, and talk me through life's challenges. He wasn't perfect, but he was there, actively engaged in the marathon of fatherhood every step of the way.

Stepparents are often vilified in stories, but there are millions of awesome stepdads out there.

Without a doubt there are some terrible stepdads (and stepmoms) out there, just as there are some terrible parents in general. But there are a lot of great ones, too.

Alison Tedford's 11-year-old son Liam is lucky to have such a stepdad. Liam shares his time between his mom's and dad's house equally, but when he is with his mom, he's also with his stepdad, Paul. Alison says that Liam adores Paul, who stepped into the stepdad role when Liam was 7. Paul spent the first couple of years carrying Liam to bed every night, per Liam's request. Now that he's too big for that, they practice lacrosse and play video games together.

"To support Liam in his love of lacrosse, Paul took a lacrosse coaching course and is the team statistics manager," says Tedford. "They are best buds and Paul treats him with all the love and kindness he does his own kids. He drives him all sorts of places, goes on field trips, and makes sure he has everything he needs and is having fun. He's a really great stepdad."

These aren't the kinds of stories that make the news. But millions of stepdads dive into supportive, involved parenting as they fall in love with their loved ones' kids.

Having a stepparent is now about as common as not having one.

According to the US Census Bureau, half of the 60 million kids in the U.S. live with a biological parent and the parent's partner. And the most common stepfamily configuration—85% of them—is a mom, her biological kids, and a stepfather. That's a whole lot of stepdads.

Blending families can be complicated, and figuring out how to navigate those waters isn't easy. But family counselor and researcher Joshua Gold calls becoming a stepdad both "a challenge and an opportunity."

"The challenge comes in rejecting previously held beliefs about what it means to be a father," Gold wrote in The Conversation. "Stepfathers – and I count myself as one – must avoid outmoded notions of compensating for the absent biological father or paternal dominance."

"The opportunity comes in devising a parenting role that expresses the best and fullest aspects of being a man and a father figure," he wrote. "Done consciously and deliberately, the role and function of the stepfather can be tremendously fulfilling for all, and a source of lifelong joy and pride."

Here's to the stepdads who step into that role, step up to the challenge, and make the most of the opportunity to have a positive, nurturing influence in children's lives.

Family

'Love is a battlefield' indeed. They say you have to kiss ~~at least~~ a few frogs to find your prince and it's inevitable that in seeking long-term romantic satisfaction, slip ups will happen. Whether it's a lack of compatibility, unfortunate circumstances, or straight up bad taste in the desired sex, your first shot at monogamous bliss might not succeed. And that's okay! Those experiences enrich our lives and strengthen our resolve to find love. That's what I tell myself when trying to rationalize my three-month stint with the bassist of a terrible noise rock band.


One woman's viral tweet about a tacky mug wall encouraged people to share stories about second loves. Okay, first things first: Ana Stanowick's mom has a new boyfriend who's basically perfect. All the evidence you need is in the photograph:

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Family



The Poison Garden of Alnwick www.youtube.com


Plants have the power to heal us, yet plants have the power to harm us. There's an unusual garden that's dedicated solely to the latter. The Poison Garden located on the grounds of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England is the deadliest garden in the world. In the Poison Garden, you can admire the plants with your eyes, but you're not allowed to touch or smell anything, because every plant in the garden is poisonous, and can possibly even kill you. The name of the garden should be a dead giveaway.

The garden was created in 2005 when Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, wanted to show people the scariest plants around. "I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill," the Duchess said. "I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it, and how gruesome and painful the death might be." Honestly, she's got a point.

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Planet

I had a strange experience in the Vancouver, B.C. airport last week that I can't stop thinking about.

I was on my way to the Women Deliver conference—the largest international conference on the rights, health, and well-being of women and girls. As a woman and an American, I was excited to be immersed in conversations about improving gender equality globally. I was excited to meet people leading movements to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. Justin Trudeau, Melinda Gates, Tarana Burke, and other major movers and shakers were going to be there. The conference had been sold out for months.

As I made my through customs at the Vancouver airport, I expected to feel some excitement about being there. I did not, however, expect to feel what I felt as I left the terminal.

The signs for exiting the Vancouver airport don't say "Exit," they say "Way Out." And as I walked toward the Way Out sign, something about those two words and the realization that I had just left American soil hit hard. A wave of unexpected emotion washed over me.

Relief.

Scenes from The Handmaid's Tale—of people fleeing the hellscape the U.S. had become and seeking asylum in Canada—flashed through my mind. A mere few years ago, such scenes would have felt like far-fetched fiction. But walking toward the Way Out signs in the Vancouver airport, it felt too close to home. For a moment, I had an urge to run toward those signs like my life depended on it. To run toward sanity—toward freedom.

We have "American freedoms" drilled into us from the time we're children. Right now, it feels like a lie.

I hadn't fully realized how psychologically oppressive the U.S. had become until I left it, even just temporarily. The steady drip of regressive policies, the erosion of facts and denial of science, the resurgence of racist and nationalist movements, the daily insanity coming from the highest levels of our government, and the intensely polarized atmosphere here has worn on me more than I realized.

And I'm generally a super positive person. Seriously, I'm like the Pollyanna of politics—if I'm struggling here, what are other people feeling? (I'm also a middle-class white lady whose privilege has prevented me from fully grasping the fear and angst marginalized communities have been feeling for, well, ever. I'm well aware that I'm late to the game of uncertainty.)

Stepping into Canada, I felt like I could fully exhale for the first time in several years, only I didn't even know I had been holding my breath. Ironically, leaving "the land of the free" gave me a keen feeling of freedom and a sense of safety I didn't know I'd lost. I never expected to feel that way leaving my own country.

My internal dialogue has always been, "America, I love you. You aren't perfect, but your positives outweigh your negatives." Now it's, "America, I want to love you. But it's clear that our relationship has become toxic and I'm not sure how much longer I can do this."

Attending a women's rights conference as an American right now was surreal.

The Women Deliver conference was a powerful four days filled with people from 165 countries working to empower women and fight for their health and well-being. Heads of international aid organizations, heads of women's associations, heads of movements, Heads of State, and thousands of others all gathered together to discuss the state of the world's women and girls.

And you want to know the biggest contribution my country made to that conversation? A litany of regressive policies and legislation that prompted a collective, international rallying cry: "We refuse to go backwards."

I got to see some of the ways our current policies affect women not just in the U.S., but outside of it. For example, I was embarrassed by our reimplementation and expansion of the "global gag rule," which removes funding from any organization that so much as mentions abortion—even in countries where abortion is legal—and puts the lives of women and girls at risk.

I don't think most average Americans understand how harmful the global gag rule is. I watched a woman from Kenya share her story of escaping female genital mutilation at age 8. I heard from a woman in Pakistan who escaped child marriage at 11 years old. I watched an 18-year-old from Nigeria who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram at 14 and repeatedly raped until she escaped at 16—eight months pregnant. The organizations that helped these girls focus their work on sexual and reproductive health, including ending child marriage and genital cutting, educating communities on safe sex, and providing resources to prevent unwanted pregnancy. And if any such organization were to inform a child bride whose body would be ravaged by childbirth or a Boko Haram escapee impregnated by violence that abortion was one possible option for them, they would lose all funding from the U.S.

That is criminal. And it is happening. And it's just one backwards policy America is responsible for.

However, I left the conference—and Canada—with a strong sense of hope.

One thing stepping out of the U.S. and meeting agents of change from around the world showed me was that there are so many incredible people doing important, world-changing work out there. The Maasai woman who has helped save 17,000 girls from genital cutting by helping transform coming-of-age rituals into celebrations of girls' hopes and dreams, for example. Orhe 18-year-old Zambian girl who earned a standing ovation from four heads of state after eloquently calling out politicians for being all talk and no action. Or the organizers who pulled together all of these individuals to help women support one another, to stand in their power wherever they live.

I returned to the U.S. not with a sense of dread, but with a sense of purpose. Women are making waves in the world, pushing back against centuries of inequality and patriarchal norms. Naturally, there will be pushback against that pushback, but we will not go backwards.

Everything isn't okay, and we are living in strange times. But there are positive things happening. Old systems have to be broken down in order to build something new. Sometimes a step back clears the way for two steps forward. I have to believe that's where we are right now—poised for a great leap into a better future, where all of us feel free and safe on our own soil.

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