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Yolanda King, 13, Has a Message for Congress on Voting Rights

In 1963, my grandfather gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington. He wasn’t painting the picture of a utopia, but one of a country where we could live without constant crisis. He wanted an end to racism and a beginning to civil rights in the United States.

Today, 58 years later, my grandfather’s dream is still not a reality. Racism is alive and well in our country. Here’s how I know: This year, 400 anti-voting bills have been snaking their way through states — and 30 have already been passed into law. Think about that: Lawmakers have passed 30 bills to stop people from voting. Thirty bills that silence the voices of Black and brown people, immigrants, and young voters. The worst of these bills make it illegal to give food and water to voters waiting in line and prevent people from having a say in the direction of our country.

That is not what democracy is all about. Today we are saying enough is enough. Young people, old people, Black and brown people, and people from all walks of life are coming out for the March On for Voting Rights. We have one important message to elected officials: It’s time to wake up.

Leading up to this day, people have been asking me why I march for voting rights. As a 13-year-old without a vote, without any way to pass laws, what’s my role in all of this? Here’s what I tell them: My generation can’t vote, but we can demand that our leaders do their jobs. We know that what people want is not just words on paper, but real action for an inclusive and just country. Marching and activism are the tools we have and we need to use them.

I march because this isn’t a game. Policies affect people’s lives. Whether we are talking about voting rights, homelessness, or education, it’s not about budgets and speeches and empty words. It’s about the kids who are scared to go to school because of gun violence. It’s about the Black women who are fighting hard every day in places like Georgia to make it easier for people to vote. These issues are serious and we are committed to change.

I march because I’m tired of elected officials putting themselves first. To be honest, I am disgusted by the behavior of many of our leaders. In many parts of this country, it is easier to register to own a gun than it is to register to vote. If you are a congressperson protecting firearms, why won’t you protect the right to vote? That is completely unacceptable.

I march because I want change, not just for me, but for everyone who comes next. My grandma says every generation has to earn their freedom; I believe our generation can free generations yet to be born. Adults have failed us, so we need to take matters into our own hands.

Finally, I march because I know activism works. I’ve seen it in my own family. When President Ronald Reagan opposed the King bill to make MLK Day an official holiday, my grandma met with many political leaders to tell them why it was so important. People marched and demonstrated and used their voices. Eventually, Reagan signed the bill. This is what we are doing today to protect the right to vote.

As a 13-year-old and an activist, here’s my question to elected officials: Why are you in office? Are you here for power, or are you here to use your platform for good? If you are here for good, it’s time to stop silencing our voices. We need three critical bills passed: the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and Washington, D.C., Admissions Act, which would make D.C. its own state. These bills cannot wait.

And my message for other teens is, wherever you are in the country, I invite you to join me for the March On for Voting Rights. Come in person, talk about it on social media, write letters, or call your representatives to tell them to pass these three crucial bills. It’s time to build the foundation of the country we dream of.

Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Martin Luther King Jr. Was More Radical Than We Remember

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