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Citizenship

4 Youth Poets Powerfully Illustrate American Democracy at Its Best During 'Every Vote Counts'

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Throughout history, people have used art to spur democratic participation. Artists across the US have used their voices this year to ensure people turn out to vote in the US presidential election. You can join us in taking action on related issues here

Four youth poets from across the United States brought viewers on a journey through the possibilities and potential of voting during the Every Vote Counts: A Celebration of Democracy broadcast on CBS and iHeartMedia on Thursday, as well as digital platforms on Friday. 

Alora Young, a 17-year-old poet from Nashville, Tennessee, opened the segment, walking down a forested slope as she invoked the spirit of her ancestors. 

“My great-great grandmother was a slave / She took thoughts of freedom to her unmarked grave,” she said. “Her daughter stood alongside / Sisters for rights that would never be hers in a lifetime / Revolution is embedded in my bloodline.”

The history of the US is a history of people fighting for their right to vote. From the Black abolitionists and Freedom Fighters of the 1800s to women suffragists to Native American activists, the right to vote has been fiercely fought for throughout history, a fact that Young wove into her poem. 

The camera then cut to Nyarae Francis, a 16-year-old poet from Inglewood, California, who walked down a sidewalk and celebrated the women who are in Congress.

“Waves of women crashing against / Shorelines,” she said. “Hear our voices say —,” she said. / We are ready and able to guide / We have made great strides / With a revolutionary number of women running for office / Over 100 women sworn into the 116th Congress.”

The 116th Congress, which took office in January 2019, was the most ethnically and racially diverse Congress of all time, while boasting the highest percentage of elected women as well. 

Quinn Edlin, an 18-year-old poet from Berkeley, California, carried this energy into a hymn of sorts. 

“I pray pray pray that when the clouds break, the sun leaks, and the people pour back into the street that my muscles will recollect, melt into one hot star, and spin to the people’s tunes with a quickness,” they said. 

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William Lohier, a 19-year-old poet from Brooklyn, New York, continued this ecstatic, Whitman-esque theme while walking near Prospect Park.  

“I am bright,” he said. “I am whole. I sing with the birds in my trees, with a voice so soft skyscrapers lean in to listen. I am a well, full to the brim With new life.”

The segment then picks up speed, threading the voices of the poets together into a tapestry of civic joy that resonates throughout history, joining spiritually with social justice poets throughout the decades, from Maya Angelou to Sonia Sanchez to Claudia Rankine to Aja Monet who urge people with their work to take part in democracy. 

“Cast your ballot like that candle burning with Ancestral flame,” Alora said. “It is / The legacy they fought for.” / “This future is not easy,” Nyarae continued. “It will not come if we don’t call it. It will not happen if we don’t make it.”

“Together again, we will beacon the blues from high rafters in empty homes,” Quinn said, “weep peaceful tears and groove till the sky turns purple and the waves roll back to rest.”

“And when we wake again it is glorious,” William added, “one thousand steppers march into the field and their feet rejoice and sing and we rejoice and sing with them each beat a language we can finally understand they are calling us! they are calling us! we shout.”

“We’re in this, undivided,” Nyarae said. “This fire inside, ignited. / The love we give, requited. / Our fists up, united. / The future is waiting for us to write it.”

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