Mackenzie Boughey isn’t old enough to vote yet, but she spent the first couple weeks of March writing letters to all 188 state senators and delegates, asking them to listen to people her age.
“I’m doing all I can now, but it’s hard when you can’t actually vote,” said Mackenzie, 16, who is one of the organizers of Maryland’s March for Our Lives, taking part at 11 a.m. March 24 on Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis.
Between schoolwork, a demanding lacrosse practice schedule and a breath-taking March full of St. Patrick’s Day bag-piping commitments, Mackenzie’s plate is pretty full. Yet she, and many of her peers, is finding time and new ways to have their voices heard.
“It’s students who are being directly impacted by mass shootings,” Mackenzie said. “I hope it will never happen to me, but there is a chance that it could.”
The tragic February 14 shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has galvanized teens around the country who are attempting to influence public policy, even if they, like Mackenzie can’t exercise the right to vote.
"When young people vote, they vote their dreams, when older people vote, they vote their fears. We need more dreams," said Annapolis civil rights activist, Carl Snowden, who has vigorously defended the Voting Rights Act for decades.
Hamstrung by her age, Mackenzie, like her peers in Parkland, Florida, has decided to focus her energy on raising her voice to pressure politicians and demand action to stop school shootings.
“I was inspired by (the Parkland survivors) and I wanted to spread that movement in Annapolis,” said Mackenzie, a Severn School sophomore who is already registered to vote in the 2020 election. “It feels good to be seen as the voice of the future… We already have a lot of social media skills. We try to get involved that way because that’s where we’re most active.”
The Rev. Marguerite Morris, a senior for the Anne Arundel County NAACP Youth Council, said that a conversation about school shootings inspired some of the most impassioned conversations the group has had.
“Seeing children active on the national level is drawing others in to be active and take a stand,” said the Rev. Morris, who supervises Youth Council meetings, held every second Sunday at Kingdom Celebration Center in Odenton. “When you hear them speak, you can hear these 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds catching that fire to be active.”
That meeting, chaired by siblings Gevonya and Joshua Hilton, who are in college and high school, respectively, had the kind of “spark” that elected officials should heed, Rev. Morris said.
“You’re going to see policy changes,” the Rev. Morris said. “We’re here for a season, but when that shift changes, these are the ones who will be in power. What we do for them can make big changes. It’s about empowering young people and giving them opportunities to express themselves. When things happen that are important to them, they take notice.”
Whether they participate in a march or a conversation, civic leaders say it’s critical that youth find their voices and, as soon as legally possible, exercise their right to vote.
"In America the greatest march that a young person can be engaged in is the march to the ballot box,” said Carl Snowden.
For more information on the March for Our Lives, please visit the Action Annapolis website, and the March for Our Lives website.