Progress has to start somewhere. Dedicated individuals have the capacity to drive change, advocate for their beliefs, or even lobby for bills to be passed by the state assembly. The Youth Progressive Policy Group (YPPG), started by passionate New York City teenagers, is fighting for youth representation because they believe that voices shouldn’t be restricted simply due to age. YPPG is determined to create real change in New York state, starting with the Young Voter Act, which would reform the voting age from eighteen to seventeen. Gaining notoriety and support among local politicians, YPPG is making strides towards accomplishing their vision. I sat down with Chris Stauffer, vice chair, to find out more about the group’s trajectory and mission.
Q: What is the Youth Progressive Policy Group’s mission and why was it created?
A: The Youth Progressive Policy Group’s mission is to bring a voice to young people in New York State. It was created by my friend Eli Frankel, who came to me and a few of our friends with the idea that teenagers in New York deserve the right to vote because they are active members of our society, and denying them the right to vote is, plain and simple, an injustice.
Q: What steps have you taken to pass your bills and spread awareness for your cause?
A: We have reached out to students around New York City through social media, and simple word of mouth. We’ve done two lobby days at the state capitol in Albany, and we’ve helped the bill gain more than 25 cosponsors!
Q: How did YPPG start? What was it like to turn an idea into reality?
A: Eli Frankel, who also goes to Bard, was inspired by similar youth rights groups in Massachusetts. It started off very simple. We would attend local activist meetings, and contact our local elected officials. Eventually, we found Bobby Carroll, D-44, who helped us translate our ideas into legislation. It was surreal.
Q: Who are the founders? How did you create your team?
A: First, Eli approached both me, and my friend Max Shatan. From there, the team grew to encompass students from a range of high schools. Jonah Warner, our political outreach coordinator, comes from BHSEC Queens, and Ilana Cohen and Julia Frankel, our media and communications directors, come from Beacon.
Q: What are some of your successes so far?
A: Well, making the bill in the first place is a great success for our group, and we have gotten support from legislators around the state. We have been recognized in various local newspapers, like the Daily News, which we are incredibly proud of. Perhaps we are most proud of getting so many teenagers involved – 30 kids skipped school to go and lobby state legislators! That’s amazing.
Q: What are projects or initiatives are you working on for the future?
A: We’re mainly focused on the Young Voter Act, as of now, but in the future we want to work on legislation on the city level. Any young person that has a legislative idea is more than welcome to come to us and get involved!
Q: Who can get involved? How?
A: Anyone! We hope to see mainly young people, high school and college students, joining our group, and they can join by visiting our website yppg-ny.org and clicking on the “Get Involved” tab.
Q: What would you tell kids in other states, maybe less liberal ones, who want to initiate change?
A: No matter the ideology, everyone deserves a right to be heard. While it may be hard to get legislators to listen to you, all we can do is try. And trying to make change is the only way that change can be made.
Q: What would you tell those who are skeptical about your mission?
A: I would tell those that are skeptical about enfranchising young people, to look towards history. It was relatively recent when the voting age was lowered to 18 from 21 (it happened in 1972). I would also tell them to look at what 17 year olds have to do in this country. A quarter of 17 year olds pay federal income tax, 17 year olds go away to college and live by themselves, and 17 year olds have to make life changing decisions, while all the while they can’t decide who administers the schools that 80% of them in New York State go to. They don’t have a voice on how the military, if they choose to join it, is run. If 17 year olds are treated like adults in so many other ways, why can’t they have a meaningful voice in our government?
The Youth Progressive Policy Group are disrupters, innovative and devoted, what is needed to make change a reality. If you want to support YPPG, check out their website, https://yppg-ny.org/ and you can read The Young Voter Act here : http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=A6839&term=&Memo=Y