Oliver York has heard it all—and the 16-year-old political activist is always ready with a well-researched answer.
He has heard critics refer to him and his cohorts as pawns of liberal San Francisco supervisors looking for a few extra votes. He’s heard that if given suffrage, teens would just mimic their parents’ voting patterns. That reminds him of the historical argument against women’s suffrage.
“‘You'll just vote the way your husbands vote.’ They said for workers, ‘You’ll just vote the way your overseers vote.’ I think there are some references on this sheet here,” says the teen, who wears a blue plaid shirt and rimless glasses. He leans over to proffer a fact sheet on the local initiative to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal and school board elections.
“People generally vote independent to their own views,” says Wu. She represents the Richmond District on the San Francisco Youth Commission, a body created in the 1990s to give teens a voice—but little official power—in city governance. Dressed in a coral dress and white cardigan, Wu is one of those kids you could imagine going straight from college to elected office (even though she’s still young enough to make liberal use of the word “like”).
It was the historic Scottish vote that inspired then-Youth Commissioner Joshua Cardenas, now 18, to introduce a Youth Commission resolution calling for expanded voting rights in December 2014. Cardenas now attends Wesleyan University, but if the issue comes before the Board of Supervisors this summer as planned, he expects to be home to witness the debate.