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Teen Politicians Give a Voice to Their Generation

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Many teens spend their babysitting money on something to listen to --music downloads, movies or concerts. Morgan Baskin put hers into being heard.

The 18-year-old high school senior is running for mayor of Canada's largest city. Amidst the international circus that is Toronto municipal politics, Baskin is a glimmer of hope. Articulate, authentic and optimistic, she's got concrete ideas to improve her city and she's spin-free. She knows her bid is a long shot, but she's making some noise as a voice for young people and the issues they care about. Adults can't help but pay attention.

"Youth matter, not only because we are the future but because we are also part of today," reads the introduction to Baskin's web-based election platform.

Baskin is the latest in a small but impressive line of young people who have thrown their hat into electoral politics as soon as they've passed the arbitrary age barrier of eligibility.

Last month, Saira Blair won the Republican state primary in West Virginia over a three-term incumbent before she was old enough to vote. She'll turn 18 just in time to cast a ballot in the November election, in which she's the front-runner.

Pennsylvania's Christopher Seeley was elected as mayor of Linesville, Pennsylvania, in 2005 less than two months after turning 18 and won re-election four years later.

In the last Canadian federal election, Pierre-Luc Dusseault became the youngest-ever Member of Parliament just shy of turning 20 -- 15 months older than Sweden's Anton Abele when he entered the Riksdag in 2010.

In the U.K., Josh Wingrove was 18 when he became a member of East Yorkshire council where the average councillor's age was 59. But these teenaged old fogeys pale in comparison to Bobby Tufts, the four-year-old mayor of Dorset, Minnesota (population 30), where the honour is drawn annually from a hat. Then again, Mayor Bobby hasn't lived up to his campaign promise to put chocolate milk in the town water fountains yet.

A couple years ago, at a conference of Manitoba's school board officials, we met an elected trustee whom we mistook for a student representative. After some profuse apologies we got to know 19-year-old Mike Lawson, who had graduated from high school to setting education policy for his district. His former principal and teachers are now accountable to him -- a dream for any teenager.

Back in Toronto, Morgan Baskin is campaigning for improved transit, using technology to remove language and ability barriers, environmental protection and allowing recent immigrants to contribute their full skill sets to the city. She realizes that her peers aren't interested in electoral politics, but they have strong opinions about causes and issues that are impacted by political decisions.

"I think it's a vicious cycle. Young people don't vote so we don't talk about young people's issues," she told our social media team in a recent interview.

"We're not considered stakeholders by politicians but we're clearly involved in other places, signing petitions and joining protests. I think politicians need to show up for young people, be in spaces where young people spend time and engage young people in real ways instead of lip service."

She knows her age is "an immediate hook" that's garnered above-average media attention for a "fringe" candidate, but she's met some voters who dismiss her automatically as inexperienced.

"I think that's sad," she laments, "because it's important to value young people in our society. There are a lot of us." But, she laughs, "when someone discounts me for my age, I know I don't actually want those people voting for me."

If you want to be taken seriously by parents and the general public, though, Baskin insists you must take yourself seriously first. "Do your research. Look everything up you can, and then just file your papers. There's no other way to do it."

Today's young people are affected by today's political decisions for longer than any of the rest of us. They deserve more say in how those decisions are made, and it seems they're willing to put their babysitting money where their mouths are to have a seat at the table.

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