What if students vote as a bloc?

Brattleboro Union High School students have unique concerns that deserve to be addressed. They can seize the power to do so by organizing into an electoral tipping point.

DOVER — On June 18, I will be graduating from Brattleboro Union High School, and, as most of my classmates will understand, the spring of senior year mandates internal reflection.

As is annual tradition, teachers will require us to provide several 400-word reflections on our academic experience. These reflections will, ostensibly, provide closure to 10 months of mental and emotional onslaught, brought not only by the standard turbulence of high school, but multiplied by the isolation and existential horror of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Certainly, there is cathartic value in writing these required reflections. Perhaps, even, one of these assignments would have been an appropriate forum to present what follows.

However, I believe my pitch should be accessible to as many eyes as possible, and so I present it here.

* * *

First, it is important to summarize the work that has been done.

The BUHS class of 2021 has endured a unique high school experience, due to its place in geography and time.

Brattleboro, Vermont, is arguably one of the most progressive towns in the United States, fostering discourse and promoting policy that stands in stark contrast to the average American municipality.

And during the last four years, backlash to the tone and policy of the Trump administration became a vehicle for even more progressive action. This manifested in national movements like March for Our Lives, the #MeToo movement, and Black Lives Matter, which have forced our country to reckon with hard truths about racism, sexism, liberty, and violence, and I am proud that my class has been active participants in this reckoning.

BUHS students took action. In 2018, students orchestrated a walkout in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. Aware, a student organization, lobbied the BUHS #6 School Board to raise the Black Lives Matter flag. In 2019, 150 high school students walked out in protest of climate change.

My classmates have protested, in solidarity, with the George Floyd protests, protested on both sides of gun regulation and organized to combat sexual harassment. I have personally participated in several of these protests, and it would be easy to rest on the laurels of my political advocacy, graduate, and move on.

I would not begrudge my classmates for opting to do this, particularly the many who have worked much harder than I have on these issues. They have done invaluable work, and this advice is not for them.

Instead, I address my pitch to the future students of BUHS.

* * *

Every March, Brattleboro holds its Annual Representative Town Meeting, concurrent with the annual election for municipal offices. In March of 2022, all adult residents of the town will be able to vote for Town Selectboard members, Windham Southeast School District and Windham Southeast Supervisory Union directors, and Town Meeting members.

All BUHS seniors who will turn 18 by March of 2022 will be able to vote for these offices. If every eligible senior were to do so, this could represent a bloc of as many as 100 students - enough to constitute an electoral tipping point.

In August of 2022, Brattleboro will hold party primaries to choose candidates for state representative and state senate. All BUHS seniors who will turn 18 by August of 2022 - virtually the entire class - can vote in this election.

In the November 2022 general elections, all seniors, and all juniors who will turn 18 by November, can vote.

A coalition of 100 or 200 students is not enough to decide which candidate will win an election. But it is, certainly, enough to play a major role in doing so.

This is a viable strategy for forcing elected leaders to commit to policies - both school- and town-related - that students favor.

* * *

Of course, a few events would need to occur for this to work.

Firstly, all eligible students would need to register to vote in time for an election. They can do so at olvr.vermont.gov.

Secondly, students would need to organize into a bloc, where all eligible students would vote for the same candidate and demand the same policy concessions. A process (a student convention or unified advocacy on common ground student issues) would need to ensure that students would be unifying around the most universal issues.

Thirdly, the bloc must include students who cannot yet vote. This would sufficiently maximize political power.

Underclassmen can participate by investing their time into campaigning and drafting policy goals. Perhaps the bloc could even push to expand local voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds, a measure that has twice been proposed by Brattleboro Common Sense.

* * *

I know my class cares about politics. They care enough to get into the streets and to lobby those in power.

I have nothing but gratitude and respect for my peers - regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum - for defying those in power, who claim that the political process should be reserved for those much older. BUHS students understand that students have unique concerns that deserve to be addressed.

It is not my place to advise future students on what issues they should care about.

However, It is my duty to encourage future students to learn from the mistakes that my class made, the power that lay before us, that we never seized.

When school board members and town officials know you can affect whether they stay in office, whether they have a job, that is when your voice will be truly heard.

-Best of luck, Miles Anton

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