PICKENS COUNTY — Traditionally, America’s youth have never had much to do with politics. In 2016, of the estimated 46 million 18- to 29-year-olds, only half were registered to vote.
And it’s something 16-year-old Krista Just of Pickens wants to change.
“I’m not sure why more young people aren’t involved in politics, but they should be,” said Just. “It affects us too.”
On Monday, Just addressed the Pickens County Council during the public forum saying that after reading The Element by Ken Robinson, she found her passion — politics.
“I love to speak and I love to be heard,” Just said during the forum. “So I decided to present to you an idea which I believe represents ‘my Element.’”
Just asked Council to consider adding a part-time youth position on County Council.
“I contribute to the economics of Pickens County,” she said. “I pay for gas, I buy food, I shop and although I personally do not work, most of my peers do — around 70 percent. I represent the average youth here in Pickens County.”
Just asserted she contributed to the county the same as an adult before quoting the Ghana diplomat and Nobel Laureate Kofi Annan: “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies,” she quoted.
Just said youth make up 19.6 percent of the county’s population, about 24,000 people.
“We are the largest source of inspiration and creativity, yet, we youth of Pickens County are completely overlooked when making decisions,” she said.
During an interview with The Sentinel-Progress, Just said she viewed her proposed youth position on Council taking the form as an internship of sorts.
“I understand there would be legal issues with it being a voting position,” she said. “But something in an advisory capacity would be beneficial to everyone. Right now we have very few ways of expressing our wants and needs to officials. And if we do, we’re not taken seriously.”
Just stated a designated youth on the Council would be in a greater position to contribute new ideas and creative thoughts — ideas that might not otherwise occur to Council.
When asked if there was an age limit to run for a seat on County Council, executive director of the Pickens County board of elections Rodney Allen said one must be an elector — meaning they must be 18-years-old.
“But there’s lots of ways young people can get involved with elections,” said Allen. “We always try to get younger people — 16 and 17-year-olds — to consider becoming election workers.”
Allen said poll workers receive a small stipend for their work with consists mainly of bringing up ballots and helping at polling centers.
“Hiring youth is a tremendous benefit to us and gets people more politically motivated,” he said. “It also gives them a leg up if they are interested in a future in politics.”
As for Just’s suggestion, Councilman Chris Bowers is looking into it.
“It is very encouraging that Krista has interest in her community and realizes that the decisions being made by the government today will have a lasting effect for generations to come,” said Bowers. “I had the privilege of speaking to the JLPC group a few weeks back. I was hoping that in some way the conversation would spark some interest, I never thought that the result would be so quick.
“Traditionally you do not see youth involvement in politics. When I was 16 I was working polling places on election day. I understand her heart and it gives me hope,” he said. “One thing that she mentioned is working to involve youth, maybe an advisory board. I am looking at the current board and committee requirements to see what areas we can utilize youth to achieve the goals mentioned by Krista. It’s a great time to be in Pickens County.”
Councilman Wes Hendricks was also supportive.
“I am happy to see a young person to show an interest in their community and local government,” said Hendricks. “I admire her courage to speak in public like she did with a passion for government. Krista is a fine student as well as her sister Ashley. I commend their parents for a fine job.”
Council chair Roy Costner said he was “thrilled” that someone like Krista not only took the time to speak, but did her homework to effectively communicate.
“My hope is that our council will find a way to involve and encourage future leaders like Krista to participate in our local government and Pickens County,” he said.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.