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Young voters find voices in their own political conventions

The right to vote comes at age 18, but many politicians do little to woo young voters. With only about 32 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voting in the last presidential election, there is a pervasive image of youths as apathetic, disengaged, and unworthy of candidates' attention.

That's an image the National Youth Conventions are trying to dispel.

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Youth in Action, the US branch of the Global Youth ACTION Network, is holding the nonpartisan conventions concurrently with the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Their goal: "to give a real backing to the issues and suggested solutions of young people," says spokeswoman Jennifer Wilkie.

Young people have different concerns than adult voters, Ms. Wilkie says. College funding, substance abuse, gun control, and violence top the list.

With the help of Oregon State University, Youth in Action has collected mountains of data on such issues, along with suggested solutions. Three hundred to 500 delegates will attend each convention to hold discussions and develop an official youth platform.

They plan to distribute the platform to thousands of high schools, universities, and partner organizations, along with a challenge to take action in their communities. The group offers $1,000 awards to youth-initiated projects that have a positive impact.

Convention organizers were hoping for visits from presidential candidates, but have had difficulties getting their attention. Currently, Ralph Nader is scheduled to speak to youths in Philadelphia, but there has been less response from George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore (Gore has left the possibility of a visit open). Their reluctance to respond "reflects poorly on their commitment to issues and solutions of young people," says Wilkie.

But momentum has been building since Youth in Action first sponsored conventions during the 1996 elections. "This election is really exciting," Wilkie says. "The more young people can be highlighted as important to this process, the more they're going to be excited about getting out to the polls."

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society