City Council elections – the October 6 primary and November 3 election – are upon us again. We have 13 candidates vying for mayor and three at-large council seats. The campaigning has already begun and, before long, Durham voters and candidates will be behaving like children.
Or, at least, I hope so.
Being a community activist, voter, and, a couple of times, a candidate for office, I am no stranger to Durham politics. I am also deeply involved with youth as a father, a coach, and, recently, as an advisory board member of Kids Voting Durham. I got involved because I believe we must provide youth with experiences and mentorship that help them develop into active, engaged citizens. I quickly realized, though, that our kids have as much to teach us as we have to teach them.
Let me tell you why we should all be taking a page from our kids book this election season:
Kids are honest and straightforward ... and they expect serious candidates to be that way too. At the KVD candidate forum kids ask questions they really want the answers to, not the questions they want to tell you the answers to as adults often do. When a student asks a candidate, as they did in the 2012 City Council election, if they would favor creating more teen centers in Durham, they do not let a candidate get by with talking about his dedication to youth and the need for them to have safe, caring places to go after school. That’s lovely, as one young woman said to a candidate, but the question still is how would you fund new teen centers, how many would create, and what parts of Durham do you think they should be in?
Kids dont know the big words that candidates use in debates. Neighborhood revitalization sounds like a great thing, but since they arent sure exactly what it is, they will nicely ask you to help them understand what it really means. Money, jobs, houses? Where? When? How? Who gets to help decide?
Kids are present to the here and now. Even at their young ages, they already know our local elected officials impact their everyday lives. Their parks, schools, after school programs, streets, police, employment, and countless other critical aspects of their lives in Durham are led by these people. Durhams youth show up to vote in Kids Voting elections in presidential years, but they are just as likely to voice their vote in local elections as well. When young people are told that more than 85 percent of Durham cast a ballot in the presidential election, but less than 1 in 10 of us cared enough to vote for who would run their schools last year, they react with confusion and sadness. They feel as though their everyday lives at school and really each of them were not important to the adults in their community.
So this election season I am going to do my best to act like a child. I am going to get to know the people who want to serve as City Council members and Mayor by asking them real, concrete questions about issues I care about for myself and my community (or I will listen to them answer Durhams students thought-provoking questions at the Kids Voting Candidate Forum on Oct.r 22.) I will show up to the polls and cast my informed vote. And after that I will stay engaged with those who are elected to see if they are following up on what they stood for in these elections.
I hope you will pledge to act like a kid this election cycle and be a part of these elections too both for Durhams kids and with them.