Malden Youth Hosts Political Forum in Preparation for Municipal Elections

A photo of some of the student organizers, alongside a few candidates who also attended.

Did you know that most of Malden’s population is under the age of 30? Shouldn't that mean that youth are taken more seriously when it comes to the government and its choices? That is the goal behind the Malden Youth Political Forum.

Hosted on October 21st, 2021, this was the first ever youth-run Malden Political Forum. With the help of Billy Zeng and Alexandria Onuoha, a group of Malden youth worked together to host this event with the same goal: How could they inspire other youth to use their voices when it came to local government? Because, in the end, local government matters just as much as the federal government does.

For the students who worked hard to prepare the event, it was a great experience. Throughout the long preparation process the teens worked together beginning in August. They finally managed to host the event after having it moved from their initially scheduled time in September.

Throughout the long organizational process, Zeng and Onuoha had been “taking a back seat, and just making sure all the logistics flow together,” as Zeng had mentioned. After the whole thing came together Onuoha felt that it “was probably one of the most organized political forums.” She felt extremely proud of the youth organizers who had worked so hard together. Onuoha feels that “youth are very much capable” of doing anything they set their minds to but are often shut down because of ageism.

Zeng had felt it was incredibly important for a forum like this to happen because youth are often overlooked in Malden. Zeng wanted to make sure that the candidates were aware of the fact that “we exist and we are going to be listened to.”

Ryan Li, one of the youth organizers, also felt it was important to get more “youth to be aware of politics” because in the end these candidates affect the youth more than anything. Even if they were too young to vote they should be aware of what the adults around them were deciding.

In the end, the best way they felt they could be heard was to host their own forum. This was what Ketshaly Philome, one of the youth organizers, felt would “create a space for other youth to get involved.” So all together, a handful of youth aged 14-19 started meeting roughly once a week in constant contact as they worked out their plans. The process was in three big parts: the initial conversations, the rough sketch as well as the rehearsals and final details.

But of course like any other event, Leslie Rodriguez, another youth organizer, felt that there “were definitely a few hiccups here and there,” which had to be expected as no event would have been perfect. Though they all definitely felt it went extremely well, aside from the fact that some candidates had said they would come but never ended up showing.

As the date started to near for the Malden Political Youth Forum, the students started promoting the event, even though there was only a week left. They didn’t mind if a lot of people joined as they planned to record the event. Either way, even if only one person had heard them as Onuoha had said, their “message is going to spread,” Rodriguez added that “young people still have a voice in our city.”

Before the event some of the youth organizers had some mild worries. Li said people “nowadays more or less lash out at each other,” over their political views. But thankfully all candidates were respectful and listened to the youth when told their time was up, as they were given limited time every time they spoke.

The Malden Youth Political Forum ran smoothly, as many viewers would agree. Malden High School teacher Katherine Haskell, who despite not living in Malden, wanted “to understand what the candidates stand for,” in the city she works in. Haskel also found it nice to attend events where she gets to see her “students do exciting things outside the classroom.”

Jessica Webber, another teacher at Malden High School, is an active Malden voter. She really enjoyed “seeing how well organized it was,” and was extremely impressed by how professional and well put together it was for a youth run forum. Webber found it extremely exciting “seeing some of the youth engaged in what we need,” as a city.

The candidates themselves also had great things to say about the event, like Ward 5 Council Candidate Ariane Taylor, who found it amazing to see “young people involved ... when they are excited or interested in government.” Taylor felt that overall this was an important forum that she had to attend as a candidate because she knows that they are going to affect “the next generation” with their decisions.

From a candidate's perspective Taylor felt the questions were “tough” and that “they were well thought out.” Onuoha believes this is important because youth are great at asking challenging and complex questions that are truly relevant, which is needed. Taylor feels as though youth forums in general should be normalized in Malden and that more youth at the Malden political table is what the city needs; it would greatly improve the quality of decisions and discussions, because the perspective of youth is quite different than the ones currently at the table.

The forum itself lasted around an hour and forty minutes, starting around 6pm. Towards the beginning the youth organizers introduced themselves before allowing the candidates 45 seconds to introduce themselves. Following that they began to play videos from candidates who could not make it because they felt they wanted to give every candidate the chance for their voice to be heard.

After that they transitioned into the questions session. With three questions in total, they gave each candidate two minutes to respond. The youth made sure to remind everyone to make sure they were muted and did not speak over one another. Once they finished the questions they moved on to closing statements where each candidate was given 45 seconds. Following that the meeting came to a great end. Throughout the entire forum it was clear just how much time and effort was put into it.

In the future the youth hope that others reach out. As Rodriguez said “the door is always open for us to reach out,” to our local politicians to make a difference. So “reach out to local community organizations, reach out to local city councils, city council officials,” as Zeng encourages others to do. Because in the end youth voices are some of the most important voices in Malden.

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