Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the 26th Amendment
To mark the 40th anniversary of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, the National Education Association rang in Independence Day by celebrating those who made it possible four decades ago. Their tireless work, once known as Project 18, expanded democracy to millions of Americans
Les Francis, Principal and Senior Strategist at Washington Media Group, was among those honored for his unflagging commitment to the cause -- of bringing the power of the ballot to those old enough to serve in uniform but previously denied a vote. Francis, a leading former activist in the Student California Teachers Association and Student NEA, became the first director of Project 18, NEA’s campaign to lower the voting age. Project 18 teamed with organizations including the YMCA, AFL-CIO and the NAACP to create the Youth Franchise Coalition to lobby for the Constitutional amendment.
“The drive to amend the constitution and thus enfranchise young adults 18-21 was, a priori, an expression of faith in the political system,” as Francis was quoted in a recent article in Real Clear Politics. “And it came at precisely the same time that much media and political attention was being paid to those who were either working outside the system or who were, in fact, trying to undo or overturn the system.”
Young people were being drafted to war in Vietnam and dying for their country on the battlefield. Yet, they could not participate in the decision-making that determined their destiny. Pressure to lower the voting age mounted, as the slogan “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was heard across the nation. Instead of trashing the system, student leaders chose to improve it.
While the argument to lower the voting age dates back to the 1950s, it gained momentum during the Vietnam War and was approved by Congress on March 23, 1971. Then, within four months, the measure was ratified by the required 38 states. This was faster than any other amendment was adopted in American history.
“Young adults have been a driving force for change in the last century, bringing new ideas and high hopes to our national dialogue,” said President Obama in a presidential proclamation issued last Friday. “Today, we remember the efforts of those who fought for their seat at the table, and we encourage coming generations to claim their place in our democracy.”
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