Robin Chen and Her Fight for Youth Enfranchisement

Working with Design Lab, CPS Parent Tries to Convince Citizens of Need to Lower Voting Age

Robin Chen is a CPS parent with a mission to lower the voting age.

Photo Courtesy of Robin Chen

Robin Chen is a CPS parent with a mission to lower the voting age.

Azusa Lippit and Eliza Sutton

On the dawn of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, it seems more than coincidental that Americans are discussing voting rights once again. In any campaign for an issue large as civil rights, activists need adequate resources in order to spread their message and create change. The Design Lab was created by Cambridge Public Schools to provide an environment in which educators and community members can collaborate to find solutions to problems, on both a local and major scale. 

Just as activists for women’s rights campaigned and eventually succeeded in gaining suffrage, people like Robin Chen at the Design Lab are working to grant that right to a group slightly farther below eye-level. Recently, a movement has begun that aims to grant voting rights to minors by lowering the voting age, which is currently 18. Robin Chen, a pioneer of this movement in Cambridge, considers herself to be “working to raise awareness that the status quo of barring minors from direct accountable representation via the ballot is harmful and problematic. I believe that children’s rights, intergenerational justice, and democratic integrity can be improved by including people of all ages in the electorate in a way that is consistent with how decisions are made for, with, and by them.” 

When asked about her experience with this work thus far, Chen relayed how government work has taken getting-used-to: “It has taken a period of personal growth to get over the self-doubt of being a lay-person approaching professionals or people in the space with more experience, but, to quote the favorite march chant, ‘This is what democracy looks like.’” She explained in an email to the Register Forum, saying, “One thing I have in mind here is being a newcomer to the League of Women Voters and about nine months after joining, speaking at their state convention to a room full of people with decades of membership experience to propose that the League take on a two-year study of the issue of family voting.” Chen is proud that she has convinced the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch to invite John Wall, author of the book Children’s Rights, to speak as part of their Our Path Forward series. Wall is considering writing a book about children’s voting rights. 

Some young people feel they are not informed enough to vote. Chen believes that youth voting is important regardless of the specific decisions youth make: “Concurrent with learning civics throughout school, [students] can be practicing civics… We would have a much stronger democracy for having this learning period.” She concluded, “Parents don’t have complete knowledge of how to vote for, say, a teen… It’s not enough to just have parent proxy as of, maybe twelve to fourteen, because young people… they’re out in the world independently.”

This piece also appears in our October 2019 print edition.