I've written before about the alarming decline in civic participation in our community, a trend that's especially pronounced among young voters, who always seem to have the lowest turnout rates. Now, we have an issue that is motivating Montgomery County teenagers like nothing else, the teen curfew proposed by County Executive Isaiah Leggett. Could it help reverse this decline?
Already, new Facebook pages have sprung up and thousands of new voters and soon-to-be-voters are paying attention to the Montgomery County Council, for the first time, as they get ready to decide this issue.
Clearly, there is a wide range of views on this topic, even among the high school students it affects most. Some express strong opposition to what they see as an unwarranted restriction on their personal freedoms, or feel this is the proper responsibility of parents, not government. Others strongly support the curfew, noting that they've never had any reason to be out alone after 11 p.m. on a school night, that the kids who are out then are exactly the ones we need to worry about, and that any parent who lets their kids hang out that late deserves what they get. Still others are weighing in with suggestions on how to craft a workable compromise that allows police to intervene in situations where they should, but also carves out reasonable exceptions for students who have evening jobs, sporting events or activities, or other valid reasons to be out late during the week.
Perhaps we could set up this latter group of kids as mentors to the partisan attack-dogs in the U.S. Congress, to teach them that lost art we used to call "democracy."
In any case, I'm not just following this one through the usual political channels. This time I'm also getting it first-hand from our kids around the dinner table, and several things have struck me from these discussions.
First, regardless of your views on the curfew, this is a great teaching moment. Just to have a question like, "Dad, who is our county council member?" come out of nowhere in a conversation with any teenager is a wonderful thing.
Second, as parents, we ought to take inspiration from our kids and get more involved ourselves. How many parents in Rockville, or any of the other municipalities holding their local elections this year, even know who the candidates are or what they stand for? It's not hard to find out, just as it's not hard to find out about bills before the council. It's all right there on-line. If you need help, just ask your teenager.
All the interest in this curfew bill provides a rare opportunity to introduce our children, and reintroduce ourselves, to the nuts and bolts of the legislative process, and just how open to public opinion that process really is.
The county council has scheduled a public hearing on the curfew bill on July 26, at 1:30 p.m., in the County Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., in Rockville. Now we'll see how many young people get beyond clicking "like" on a Facebook page, and show to make their voices heard where it really counts.