Ever since the 2017 election, there has been more political uproar and discussion over controversial topics. Issues like sexual assault, climate change, and the overall running of the government have been questioned. But, since we are in high school, and most of us can’t even vote yet, why should we care? I talked to two of our own representatives, Senator James Lankford and Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum, to find out.
Senator James Lankford (Left) Mayor GT Bynum (Right)
“No one in a community has more at stake for the decisions being made today than young people, because on average young Tulsans will live with the results of those decisions for a longer period of time,” said Bynum. “And the decisions made by local government impact your daily life, so you should know about them and have an opinion on them.”
We are going to be affected by all of these decisions, but how can we change anything?
“Everyone really does have a voice in our country and they use their voice to stay informed and engaged because they will be able to make a difference,“ said Lankford. “You’ve got to be able to stay engaged, even if you never plan to get involved in politics, our voices matter. The more we are informed, the stronger our nation is.”
Many suggest making our voices heard by contacting your representative, but what is the best way for us to do that?
“A letter is the slowest way possible to do it,” said Lankford. “You can write a letter, but if you send it to Washington, DC it actually goes through a security apparatus and gets opened, inspected, it gets radiated, and it gets sent to us about a week later after it’s all been inspected. Unfortunately that’s the day that we live in, but emails are a great way to do it or phone calls. We take a lot of phone calls into our office and we answered about 150,000 emails in the last year.”
Many people in the government have a ‘Contact Me’ page on their websites, do they actually see what is submitted?
“Yes,” said Bynum. “A lot of elected officials don’t handle it personally, but I feel it protects me from being isolated and hearing the same voices all the time. The more diverse range of opinions I hear, the better decisions I can make.”
Even if we are old enough to vote, how much power do we actually have?
“I won the election because young Tulsans proved the old political conventional wisdom that ‘young people don’t vote’ to be wrong,” said Bynum. “I felt young people don’t vote when you have two candidates tearing each other down the entire campaign and ask voters to choose the lesser of two bad options. So I ran an entirely positive campaign focused on our future, and we increased young voter turnout by 50%. Today, my staff if probably the youngest Mayor’s Office team of any major city in the country. In Tulsa, you don’t have to wait until you’re in your 50’s to make an impact – you can do it today.”
So if staying informed is important, but everyone is throwing around the accusation of ‘fake news,’ how can I make sure that what I’m reading is right?
“Make sure that you’re getting different sources so that you’re getting balanced information,” said Lankford.
Once I finally get all of my information and have a stance, how do I start a conversation with someone I disagree with without it becoming an argument?
“I learned this from Senator Nickles: never make it personal and never question the other person’s motives for their position,” said Bynum. “You may disagree with them on one issue today, but you’ll need to work with them on something else tomorrow. And if you make it personal, you reduce your ability to do that – and thus your ability to be effective. It is OK to disagree. Good people disagree all the time.”
Since Bynum and Lankford are both politically influential, what did they do in High School to get there?
“I volunteered on campaigns and interned for Senator Don Nickles in his Tulsa office,” said Bynum. “I later worked for him in DC as my first job out of college, something that would not have happened if I didn’t establish my relationship with his team starting in high school.”
But, Lankford wasn’t involved in politics in high school.
“I wasn’t [involved] other than staying informed, so I didn’t run for student council, anything like that,” said Lankford. “I was in the student paper, I was in speech and debate, so I did a lot of research.”
This research kept him up to date on the political climate and gave him the information he needed to stay involved in political conversation.
Even though sometimes it may seem like our young voices might get lost in the squabble, people are listening. To contact Senator Lankford, visit https://www.lankford.senate.gov/contact/email. To contact Mayor Bynum, visit http://www.gtbynum.com/contact, he also suggests his Facebook and Twitter.
By Sydney Langley