Opinion

Marching’s great, as long as voting follows closely

Young activists led a phalanx of marchers along South 9th Street Saturday, and stood shoulder to shoulder in People’s Park. They condemned gun violence with a stirring sense of purpose that conjured ghosts of Tacoma protests past.

The Hilltop crowd rivaled an assembly in nearby Wright Park in October 1969. On that day more than 1,500 people, many carrying white crosses and clad in black arm bands, protested the Vietnam War.

This time they held signs emblazoned with messages of empowerment seen at more than 800 other March for Our Lives events. The coast-to-coast rally was born from growing frustration about U.S. school shootings in general, and last month’s slaughter of 17 people at a Florida high school in particular.

“We march, we fight, we roar!” proclaimed a sign held high by a young woman in Tacoma.

All admirable sentiments, to which we’d like to add one more life-changing, culture-shaking verb:

We vote.

If young people register to vote en masse this year, then cast ballots in August and November, they will wield a weapon capable of swaying lawmakers long after the protest placards are put away.

In Pierce County, five seats in the U.S. House and Senate and 20 seats in the state Legislature are up for grabs in 2018. The winners could help determine assault weapon restrictions, curb high-capacity magazine sales and tighten background checks.

If you’re registered, candidates care what you think, because they covet your vote. Don’t take it for granted.

Two generations ago, millions of America’s youngest adults were appalled by the senseless violence in Vietnam but could only vote with their feet in the street because they weren’t old enough to go to the polls. The 26th Amendment, adopted in 1971, fixed that by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

Today, many young people are wasting that hard-fought constitutional right. Millennials have the worst voter turnout of any age group, despite raw numbers that could give them more political clout than Baby Boomers.

The Legislature this year took a good step to develop lifelong voters at an earlier age. Washingtonians as young as 16 will now be able to pre-register to vote; they can do it electronically, in person with government agencies (while getting a driver’s license, for instance) or at citizenship events that all public high schools are required to coordinate.

The goal is to have such a strong reserve of adolescents signed up as future voters, election officials will welcome at least 50,000 new voters each year ready to do their civic duty as soon as they turn 18.

Pre-registration will provide a nice segue to boost the ranks of the youngest registered voters (up to age 24), which as of March 1 topped 42,000 in Pierce County and stood at just under 350,000 statewide.

Meantime, here are some key deadlines:

July 9 is the last day to register online for the August primary election (July 30 to register in person.)

Oct. 8 is the last day to register online for the November general election. (Oct. 29 to register in person.)

Go ahead and mark it on your calendar in red ink. Even better, march to the nearest computer and register right now.

While Saturday’s display of gun-safety activism was impressive, it’s equally inspiring to hear young people such as Stadium High student Mei Yun Loya. She told the crowd she turns 18 this year and is already registered to vote.

“I want people to know that we mean this,” she said. “This is not just one march.”

And that huge crowd of Tacoma marchers? They represent much more than just one vote.

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