Jacob O’Donnell speaks during the LBC Votes forum attended by youth and local officials.
Long Beach youth gathered with local officials in an online forum to discuss the importance of youth voting and becoming engaged in politics.
Youth from many schools got to ask questions to numerous representatives from the Long Beach area, such as ninth district City Councilmember Rex Richardson and staff from the offices of first district City Councilmember Mary Zendejas and California State Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell.
The youth forum was hosted on Oct. 22 by LBC Votes, a youth-led non-partisan group focusing on voter engagement in Long Beach. Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the forum was hosted on a Zoom video call.
Moderator Montserrat Pineda, co-founder and senior director of LBC Votes, began the event by asking everyone what their vote means to them.
“I don’t really think people realize how much our government decides every single aspect of our lives,” said Malerie Hurley, a Millikan High alum and UC Davis freshman. “… Voting to me is being able to decide my future and just make decisions about my own life, whether it’s [on] housing, education, jobs, or anything.”
Diana Tang, chief of staff to Mayor Robert Garcia, responded by saying “with great privilege comes great responsibility.” Richardson also emphasized this by showing a picture that included Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African-American senator elected to the U.S. Congress.
“And from that moment it was a fight for voting rights, all the way up until this day,” Richardson said, discussing the importance of voting. “It’s 2020. In the year 2020, it shouldn’t be a standard to have to wait eight in hours in line to cast a ballot. And that’s what we’re dealing with today.”
One youth asked about what the city is doing to reduce air pollution in historically redlined neighborhoods, such as those in the Westside and North Long Beach. Richardson pointed out that the boards which make decisions that impact the environment have little to no Black or brown representation among their members.
“We have to make sure that we have representation at all different levels of government,” Richardson said. One way to do so is through voting!”
Others vocalized the importance of voting in favor of protecting and representing their communities.
“Voting is a privilege and not everyone is able to do it,” said Alicia Casey, a Cal State Long Beach student. “And so I want to do whatever is in my power to be informed and to listen to the stories of others and try to represent the community in the best way possible.”
Casey, a Millikan High alum, said her initial involvement in politics began due to a 2016 election party in high school, where a teacher invited students to participate in an extra credit assignment.
“It was really exciting cause we went there for extra credit but we had to actually know what we were talking about to get the points,” Casey said. “So leading up to that we had a mock election and got the whole school involved… but along the way we got super passionate and super into it.”
That ended up getting her invested in politics. And now she suggests holding online zoom meetings and gatherings as ways to stir political activism and see friends.
“I did what I could,” Pineda said, responding to how youth can get things done. “I just emailed a bunch of elected officials and luckily they responded so it just goes to show that you can do the same thing.”