Handmade posters hung on the walls at last week encouraging students of legal voting age to register.
In the past, an outside organizations reminded students to register to vote, but this year things are different as a student group called Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) is behind the voter registration drive.
The trend of mobilizing young voters has worked well for Democracts since young voters tend to vote for Democratic candidates, but a blog called BigGovernment said YES is a "leftist movement group." But students and organizers said YES is a student social justice group affiliated with Voces de La Frontera and the group has 12 chapters in Milwaukee- and Racine-area high schools and three universities.
Mike Jensen, a teacher at JI Case High School and advisor for YES, said the group is creating a student bill of rights for the school district, registering voters, building awareness of social justice issues and helping to make schools safer.
The group was created in its current form about two years ago at Horlick High School when two groups, Students United for Immigrant Rights (SUFRIR) and Students United in the Struggle (SUITS) merged and created one group that included everyone. SUFRIR was started in 2004 and was an extension of a Latino American history class at .
“They (the two groups) realized that they were doing a lot of similar things and they wanted it to be more inclusive to all people of all nationalities and ethnicities,” Jensen said.
In addition to registering voters, YES members have been working on a three-page student bill of rights. The group attended a summit with several Milwaukee-area high school students that featured workshops on how they wanted to develop the student bill of rights, which will be presented to the Racine Unified School Board next month.
Maria Fuerte and Julia Maciel, both students at Case, said their math teacher recommended that they get involved in the group.
“I like fighting for what is right instead of just going against it,” Fuerte said.
“I liked the meaning of it and we’re working on the Student Bill of Rights; it’s really important for the students to get involved,” Maciel said.
The student bill of rights focuses on several topics including: school safety and discipline, class sizes, bilingual education, freedom from discrimination, and life after school. The document also includes language that is pro-union, including students having “a right to a school environment where all teachers and staff have the right to collectively bargain” and was approved by the REA, the local teachers’ union, Jensen said.
“We got REA approval at the last representative assembly that we had,” Jensen said. “We had a few of the students from YES attend and speak on behalf of it and it was passed pretty substantially. The REA is standing behind it (the student bill of rights). We’re trying to introduce it at the school board.”
Jensen explained that while the students already have a code of conduct in their school handbook, the student bill of rights is coming from the students themselves.
Sam Kohlmann, a student at Case who helped work on the document, said having a voice in how his school operates is important.
“A young person who doesn’t have a vote doesn’t really have a voice and doesn’t have much of a say because we’re not 18 and can’t vote,” Kohlmann said “But if we all come together and we can get stuff passed. It’s a way to get some power. This group gives us credibility so that we’re not being pushed around. You have to stick up for what you think is right…with this group you can actually make that happen.”
Last week the group made the posters promoting an afterschool voter registration drive and about 20 students, who were eligible to vote, had registered. Jensen doesn’t know how many 18-year-old students attend Case, but he feels the group is making a good dent in getting more students registered.
“I feel like even if we signed up just one, we’d be successful,” Jensen said. “I think we’re getting students that think voting is really cool – regardless of their political beliefs.”