Wait, you're OK? You're listening to Radiolab Radio from WNYC. Hey, hey.
All right, well, first caveat. Yes, I feel like I need to do, which is that I have my I literally just got a call. I have my phone on because my wife could go into labor at any minute.
Yeah, you just got to a call from my sister, probably trying to see if my wife is going into labor.
OK. Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad. This is Radiolab. We got a couple of things for you today. We have a look forward, then a couple looks back which turn into a look forward.
But to get going, I want to share a conversation I had this week with our director of research, lots of Nassr, who, among other things, hosted the recent series. The other Latife might think of our relative as the other other Latife. And I want to feature I just want to sort of point a spotlight at him for a second, because, man, he has a lot going on right now.
In addition to having a kid, he just released a TV show he did with Netflix and I wanted to talk about it. So two days ago, my show came out and then today, hopefully, supposedly my baby's coming out.
So it's really it's a lot going on right now.
Well, let's talk about the child, the the creative child, the creative baby that you just had. What is it? How did it come to be? Yeah. And just sort of set it up for me. Yeah. So I made this TV show. It's called Connected.
And it's the idea is it's sort of a it's a kind of meditation on the like many scientifically observed ways that each of us are connected to each other and our world and that are sort of so surprising.
And the kinds of things like I think a great Radiolab show will make you kind of look at a thing you take for granted and see it in a whole new way.
It's one of these, like Jason Bourne esque shows, where where literally every scene is in a different country.
You know, there's there's a lot to of in the desert. There's a lot to do on a plane. Is Latife in space? I don't know if you're ever in space, but I was in space.
I did go I did go in a hot air balloon over a volcano.
I was like I was so I was jealous of you from the very beginning. So how did you let me ask you about the let's talk about dust, because that's one six episodes where you follow dust literally blowing across the earth.
Yeah. How did you decide on dust?
It was from a press release that NASA put out and it felt like this globe spanning, subtle, hidden force.
That's like nudging different people in different places in different ways that you just you never could have guessed that all of those came from the same thing. And then that thing happened to be like this random dust from this random spot in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
So it turns out getting to the dusty place on planet Earth is really, really difficult. I've been traveling for like three days now.
So, OK, we start in the Sahara, beautiful overhead shot of you walking through this dusty landscape in what?
And it's a great scene of you and a scientist leaning over a prehistoric fish.
Oh. Dried up in the dust because one because you explain that this used to be an ocean catfish.
It was it was like I like it almost felt like a religious experience.
Like I felt like I was communing with this with this with this prehistoric catfish. OK, so you point at this fish and you say this ancient fish is part of what has created the dust of this desert and this dust literally blows across the entire globe. Walk me through the sort of places you follow it. Yeah, OK, so this dust, so it's like in this special spot where there are these mountain ranges and it creates this kind of wind tunnel effect to the wind just like digs it up and kind of great sit down.
This fish and all the other creatures that lived in this like prehistoric lake, it like gets into these fine, fine, fine grains, like even finer than the sand. And then it gets kicked up way high into the atmosphere.
And and from there, it goes fully over all of West Africa. It keeps going over the Atlantic.
And there's this kind of zone that meteorologists called the nursery Urma, Matthew, Maria, Ivan, over half of the Atlantic storms big enough to get named start as baby storms here off the West African coast.
And so what happens is this dust cloud goes into the kind of hurricane cloud and there's one.
Lorenzo, there was a hurricane that was like an active hurricane in the middle of the ocean that was, you know, that was making its way across the Atlantic and this dust cloud, what it does is it it basically snuffed it out.
If it weren't for this dust doing its thing, there would be more hurricanes hitting the Americas. OK, so step one, 8000 year old fish are like chilling out modern day hurricanes, right? Right. OK, so then we keep going.
We keep following it. We know that there's a lot of dust blowing over the ocean from satellite images and most of this stuff ends up in the ocean. A lot of that dust is sort of as it goes.
Some of it sort of rains down along the way and like. And so so imagine you are plankton just kind of in the middle of the ocean, just hanging out like in the middle of the ocean. There's not a lot of nutrients to be found. But then this dust comes out of nowhere and gives life to these plankton, which is great for for two reasons. Number one, they're a major carbon sink. So in terms of global warming, when those creatures die like their little skeletons sort of fall down to the bottom of the ocean.
So it's a literal carbon sink.
The other good thing, those ocean phytoplankton make a I forget what the percentages. It's like a ridiculous proportion of the oxygen that we breathe.
That's so cool. All right. So step one, the ancient dust chills out baby hurricanes. Yeah. Step two, it feeds the phytoplankton, which create literally the lungs of the planet. What's step three?
So some of that dust goes over basically to the Caribbean, to the Gulf Coast of the United States. And it can cause a lot of problems.
Actually, there's one thing that happens called red tide, where it basically gives in the same way that it's feeding those phytoplankton. It feeds this bacterium that what you see is like just tons of fish, dolphins, manatees, like all these different ocean creatures dying. But not just that it can have for people nearby the coast like respiratory effects.
So somebody coughing in Florida like that could be because of this. Again, like tracing it back to this fish, you know, thousands of years old fish.
OK, so then where does it all end up?
So the kind of magnificent and two hour episode is the Amazon rainforest.
When I went there, the thing that one of the scientists there told me was and this kind of blew my mind, they never it never occurred to me, is that the soil in the Amazon rainforest kind of actually sucks. Like it's not great. And it's dust comes, rains down.
And again, it's full of all these nutrients like phosphorus that are like amazing fertilizer.
The rainforest is being fertilized and sort of kept stable by this fertilizer from from falling from the heavens.
You know, that's amazing. It's amazing to consider. But to me. Wow, sorry. You know, just the kind of the astonishing thing to me.
And the thing about this connection between the. Amazon and the Sahara between the Sahara being the like. The deadest place you can imagine, and then for that to be fertilizing and giving life to the most vital, vibrant, you know, biodiverse place that, you know, that you can imagine like that connection is so it's like so beautiful and profound to me. Yeah, totally.
So, OK, if they want to check it out, they just search for connected.
You could literally it's Netflix dot com slash connected. The one thing I did want to tell you. Oh sorry. Yeah.
Go no no.
Go for no I was I was going to start to wrap up but one thing I didn't tell you because I feel like I owe you to tell you this. OK, so so there is one thing that I kept bumping into as I was doing the research for this show. This is like numerical statistical pattern. I was like, OK, I want to do a show about this.
We started we were partway through and then one of the producers that I was working with was like, oh, you know, there was a Radiolab about this.
And I was like, Wait, what? And and so it was before I got there.
It was in the numbers episode is a segment in the numbers episode. I don't know if you remember doing a segment on Binford's law. Oh, sure. Yeah.
That episode actually was made when I was on paternity leave. Oh, so you don't even know. OK, that's, uh, that wasn't really like Soarin grabbing hold of that one. OK, all right. But yes, I do remember that episode. Yeah. So Bedfords lost so. So I ran it. That same story I did like a much bigger, broader version than, than in real version.
But what was cool was one of the scientists who I talked to who is using Bedfords Law, she was using it on bots like she exposed this ring of like thousands and thousands of Russian Twitter bots.
And the reason she did any of that research was she was like, oh, because I heard it on Radiolab.
And then I went out into my research. I tried it the next day and it worked like, well, and it was just so cool to me to be like, oh, that feels so nice. Like it feels like a thing. Yeah.
You know, it's sort of the universe folding in on itself or something. Totally. And it's like a I like that, that there too.
You see those kind of hidden connections. Yeah. Kind of like the, the, the, the idea dust from Radiolab blows.
I mean certainly it didn't start at Radiolab. Those things have been blown forever. But yeah. That they that we're a node in the spread is really cool. Yeah. Really cool. Yeah.
Radiolab Director of research lots of Nassr again the show is called Connected and you can find it on Netflix. And by the way, just a few hours ago, a few hours ago from this moment, this moment where I'm speaking to this Mike Latife and Karlee, his wife had their second baby. Huge congrats to both of them. OK, so I mentioned that we have a couple of little looks back, timely looks back, I think you'll see.
So a couple of years ago, as part of our more perfect series, we made an album. We got a bunch of musicians together and we had them each write a song inspired by one of the 27 amendments to the United States Constitution. Dolly Parton, by the way, was on that album.
That was my first interaction with her before Dolly Parton's America. Any case, we we made an album, an actual album that got released and all the places. And on the podcast, we sort of paired each of those songs with little stories. I like to think of them as audio liner notes, which told little stories about each of the amendments. And recently a couple of things happened in the world that brought two of those stories to mind for us.
First of all, about a month ago, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to make Washington, D.C. a state. At long last and one of the key political players behind that push was a woman named Eleanor Holmes Norton, D. S congressional delegate. We actually got into a bit of a tussle with her about this very issue two years ago. So we're going to play that for you now. It was part of the piece we did on the Twenty Third Amendment.
Twenty Third Amendment presidential vote for D.C. to D.C. The district constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct a number of electors of president and vice president equal to the whole number of senators and representatives in Congress to which the district would be entitled if it were a state, if it were a state, if it were a state. OK, we arrive at Amendment 23, all those words just a second ago, what they amount to is simply this twenty Third Amendment gives the citizens of the District of Columbia, the citizens of D.C., the right to vote for president, which for me begs the question, D.C. didn't have the right to vote for president.
What? The White House is in D.C., for God sakes, how did it take us twenty three amendments to give the citizens of D.C. the right to vote for president?
Why Julia Longoria, why and why didn't they have that right in the first place?
The short answer is it was kind of an accident.
The reason why this ended up happening is the founders wanted to put the White House in a neutral place. They wanted it to be outside of state politics. So you wouldn't run into a situation where, like the civil war breaks out and the White House is in Alabama, like what? What would Abraham Lincoln have done in that situation? We wanted to make sure the capital would operate from a peaceful place of neutrality.
So the founders took corners of Maryland and Virginia and created a city that would be controlled by Congress. I don't think anyone meant to disenfranchise all of the nearly 700000 citizens that live in D.C., but that's what ended up happening because D.C. is not a state. The Constitution didn't really address it. For instance, it didn't have electors in the Electoral College.
Alexander Hamilton thought eventually we'd fix the representation problem in D.C., but that didn't come until 1961 with amendment number twenty three. It's crazy. Took that long and and did it actually fix the problem in the end?
No, actually, all the Twenty Third Amendment did is give the citizens of D.C. the right to vote for president, which, you know, is no small thing, but it left many things unanswered. It didn't really clarify what D.C. is constitutionally like. Is it a city or is it a state the way our system of government works? You've got to be part of a state to have senators. You've got to be part of a state to have a vote in the House.
DC is simultaneously not a state and not part of a bigger state. So it's definitely a thing, but it's like not enough of a thing to get it. Full representation in Congress.
You don't have a full democracy unless you're treated equally and the district is not treated equally because we're the only jurisdiction that pay federal taxes, whose members cannot vote and whose member has no senators. And that's you.
You can't vote. Right? That's me. This is Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
I represent the District of Columbia, the nation's capital.
She kind of sits at the center of the blind spot of the Twenty Third Amendment. She's the non-voting delegate from Washington, D.C. I'm called a delegate.
I'm just like my peers are called delegates.
Sorry, what what is a non-voting delegate? What is that?
Oh, it's kind of what it sounds like. Like it's a congressperson who represents their constituents in Congress. They have an office in Congress, does all the things that normal congresspeople do. But when it comes time for the final vote on the floor. They don't have a vote, they don't have a vote. It's isn't the whole reason you elect a congressperson so they could go to DC and vote on bills. Yeah.
Over the years, there have been over 150 proposals to change this. Ideally, Eleanor wants to solve it by making D.C. the fifty first state of the United States.
But it's become like this political thing where like D.C. is very blue as a city. It's also 47 percent African-American. What's happened over the years is that some Republicans have found ways to block Eleanor Holmes Norton efforts to get representation. Some people say it would be unconstitutional.
Huge disappointment to me, but very frankly, I'm used to uphill battle so you can get yourself together.
I think to know about Eleanor Holmes Norton is that long before she was the congresswoman from D.C., she was a civil rights activist.
I will not be a student organizer with the Mississippi Freedom Summer in the nineteen sixties. Equality is not an ingrained part of this society, and I might add of almost any other diverse society. Amazon made a show about a lawsuit she won for young women. Researchers at Newsweek the idea of women's equality. Begins yesterday when she was a lawyer at the ACLU, she won a historic First Amendment case where she represented white nationalists. Sometimes I got to defend people who would not defend me.
I mean, the woman is fascinating. She was the first woman to head the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and wrote the first federal guidelines that helped make sexual harassment illegal under federal law.
And Eleanor Holmes Norton led the push to that. Anita Hill could even be heard.
She was one of the people who demanded that Anita Hill be able to testify before the Senate like she is a revolutionary.
I would like to invite Congresswoman Norton up. Thank you so much.
Which is why I found it strange to see her in this position.
Thank you very, very much. Why would she choose this job? I christen this ship.
Potomac Water Taxi too soon, I hope to have a real name the day we visited her, she was speaking at an event at the wharf neighborhood on the water that she helped develop to christen a new water taxi.
May she bring fair winds.
And I know politicians have to do that sort of thing, less rain. But the juxtaposition of the revolutionary I read about and good fortune and this woman, all who sail her.
Who I see smacking a staff against a yellow water taxi. It was confusing. You've been doing this for a long time right now since 91, and I'm curious, you've had a really varied career. You know, you've I watched the Amazon special that's loosely based on your life. And and you were the first woman, you know, all this. I wonder why you made the turn to be in this position where your hands are tied ironically and my hands are tied in the least.
I can't do the final vote. But by the time the final vote comes in the House, it's a done deal. So I have to I have to do the work ahead of time, which is what every member, even those who have the vote have to do.
What made things even more confusing is that she insisted that even though she cannot vote, her job is no different than any of her colleagues.
I go to the House floor like everybody else. I work in committee where most of the work is is being done. I go and talk to to members of the Senate and it kept coming up.
She kept harping on that point. My job is no different.
Frankly, I do what everybody else does. If you want to get a bill passed at one point she got really upset with us.
This is why I'm like this.
I had more just the moment because we made the mistake of comparing the situation of D.C. to the territories, which also don't have voting representation in Congress, places like Puerto Rico and Guam.
These are completely different places.
It seemed almost like an insult to her to ask questions about this thing, which seems so obviously true that every single respect except not having the final bill on the House floor, we are a state.
I posed that question.
Do you think that we're here to show you the irony of this comes out almost cartoonishly when the press person that we talked to was in the room, when he had told us that there was this buzzer that goes off in the office when there's a vote on the House floor, then Ben talking about a sound that happens when there's a vote or something like that.
There was no vote. So what is that?
I don't know what that is. What is what now? Now there's a vote. Deception, when you hear the bell, you know, there's a boat and there's warns you that you have 15 minutes to go to the floor.
Or they signal whether to vote on rule on something else, so that is supposed to signal like get your butt over there kind of thing and go over to them.
It does mean that if you have a vote, you should be preparing to go to vote. Yes.
And for you. What does that what does that signal to you or how does that make you feel?
Well, that may mean I've been on the floor already to discuss the bill. I can discuss any bill, including bills I can vote on, which is which is most bills, which are all bills.
Um, that doesn't keep you from going to the floor, speak on a bill. I'll be going to the floor to speak on the FAA bill where I have been able to I didn't know how to make sense of this irony.
This woman who's been representing disempowered people all her life, she's almost choosing to be in a role with virtually no power and then insisting in these moments that she's not disempowered at all.
If I were going to demand change, it seems like I would shout from the rooftops that I don't have a vote, that my job is completely different, that I'm completely disempowered.
But in these moments, Eleanor Holmes Norton had almost this willful denial of the miserable situation that DC finds itself in. I only had about 15 minutes with Congresswoman Norton and I went home from D.C., totally baffled by the interaction. So I started looking back at her speeches and her writings, deep, deep cuts on C-SPAN, and I found this one panel from 1987 at the SAG Harbor Initiative.
It was called The Retreat from Equality Will Not Go Back On. And it clarified things for me. I do want to say something about the constitutional myth. Thurgood Marshall did a great service to the country and remind Thurgood Marshall that Thurgood Marshall did a great service to the country and in reminding it that that revisionist history is very un-American and reminding us of the evolution of our own constitution. But it is very important that myth not be associated only with negative aspects of American life.
No society continues to grow without its own powerful myths. One of the only remaining powerful myths in American society with all of our diversity is the myth of the Constitution, the myth that all of us somehow have bought in whatever our religious or ethnic or political background into that wonderful, powerful myth. The fact that that myth has not always been real or true is quite beside the point. The myth of God is true for those who believe in God. Even when there is war and famine and pestilence, it is the myth that makes people live through the pestilence so that they can they can indeed live full lives.
Once again, the myth of the Constitution is in a very real sense, the handiwork of black people who enjoyed it, at least when there was nothing but racism. They believed those words because they believed them. They ultimately made them live. Black people, therefore, have to be at the forefront of those who celebrate the Constitution, not because it is perfect, but because they have made it more perfect. One of the worst things we could do in a time when so little brings us together is to just try to debunk or destroy the one powerful myth that continues to animate the society.
The myth of the great American Constitution, which has been copied all over the world and which continues to drive us to a more perfect society.
In some ways. I think Eleanor Holmes Norton kind of stands in for D.C. She lives in a state of suspended denial in order to keep fighting. If she or black people or women or any of the people who are not in the original, we, the people, if we ever succumbed to our powerlessness, gave up, it would all be over. But if Eleanor Holmes Norton keeps believing in the Constitution, believing in the myth that it tells us the myth of her own power, despite the odds, despite even the reality of her situation, maybe she can make her reality, match the myth.
I mean, hey. We got the Twenty Third Amendment, didn't we? That was Julia Longoria reporting for more perfect now, as I mentioned, Eleanor Holmes Norton has been at the center of this recent push to make D.C. a state. The resolution passed in the House in June of this year. But we should admit it's unlikely to pass the Senate in large part because Republicans are almost universally opposed to it. However, we are living in turbulent times, my friends.
You never know. And when we come back from break, we will have another little D.C. story also about the power to vote. And we will see how now the winds might be starting to blow in a different direction. Might. Science reporting on Radiolab is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a science foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.
Jad Radiolab, we just heard a story we did a few years ago for the most perfect album about the Twenty Third Amendment and D.C. trying to get statehood and to continue the theme. Now, we're going to play another piece from that same, more perfect series on the amendments, another story that seems to resonate with a lot of things swirling around us. All right now. This one was two amendments down on the 25th Amendment, and it came to us from reporter Sakari.
And after we play the original sorry, we'll have a little update for us from the streets. Here we go. It all starts around World War Two.
In September 1940, the Selective Service Act was passed. And for the first time in history, American boys were being drafted during peacetime. Gratitude and the love of your country.
During World War Two, you had all of these young men who are about to be sent overseas, many of whom were 18 but still didn't have the right to vote, because in a lot of states at that time, the voting age was still twenty one, four years or so between the ages of 18 and 21 have been summoned by a and to a lot of people that didn't seem fair. They should participate in the political process that produced the fateful summer.
But the moment where people really, really start to get mad about this is Vietnam.
Thousands of demonstrators opposed to the Vietnam War assembled in the nation's capital for a mass protest.
They came up with this phrase, old enough to fight, old enough to vote, old enough to fight at 18, diet 18, old enough to vote at 18. And so with that appropriate that on this same day in 1971, we are certifying the Twenty Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the twenty Sixth Amendment is ratified in just 100 days faster than any other amendment in the Constitution.
And actually, it's interesting to think about this amendment now, because some young people recently have started to feel like 18 isn't good enough.
Up next, the youth vote gets a little bit younger. A group of teenagers has formed a campaign called Vote 16, the USA. They want to lower the voting age to 16 in cities across the country.
Hi. Hi, Alec. Is are you. Yeah, it's me.
So how are you? I'm good.
This is Alec Shire and I'm from Washington, D.C. I'm 16 years old. And.
And what kinds of things do you do like besides political stuff? I work at a computer stand and that's just at my local farmer's market. Yeah. And then I'm also a host at another neighborhood restaurant.
Alec has been in the news a bit recently. The idea here is to lower D.C. voting age to 16.
He's an activist with this organization called Vote 16 D.C., which has gotten behind this bill in his hometown of Washington, D.C., to lower the voting age.
After the Parkland, Florida shooting, D.C. would become the first jurisdiction to allow minors to vote for a president.
And interestingly, Alec told me that that same argument from the Vietnam era old enough to fight, old enough to vote. It's come back around, but in a new form.
Oh, no, not again. Another high school. All of the school shootings that have happened, deadly shooting at a high school in Kentucky, in Rockford and Southern California, in Santa Fe, Littleton, Colorado.
They've created that same sense that if people are dying Newtown Elementary School, they deserve to have their voices heard.
I just I think it's really frustrating for me personally that it's taking us, being shot in schools for people to be like, you know, I'll give you the right to vote.
Alec actually says that he should have that right for more basic reasons.
I just think that, you know, every two weeks I get a paycheck and I get taxes taken out and, you know, are those tax dollars go? They go into the council members paychecks and the council members get to vote on budgets that include my hard earned money and they get to decide where that goes.
Not only that, he says that young people are already behind the wheel.
You know, we're going 60 miles an hour, but you don't want us to walk into a voting booth and, you know, click a couple of boxes and make an informed decision. We drive a car when we go in to apply for a license, we can choose whether or not we want to be an organ donor or not.
So the basic point is, if you trust us to pay taxes, you trust us to drive, you trust us to be part of the decision to donate an organ, then you should trust us to vote.
But here's the thing, right? When I went out on Election Day to ask people, do you think 16 year olds should be able to vote if they thought this was a good idea?
Most of them were like, no, no, I don't think so. No, I don't think so. Not at all. I don't think 60 year olds should vote.
Absolutely not. That's around the time they're getting in the marijuana. Their judgment is off. No. Is that a thing that people are talking about?
I even had a 16 year old tell me that 16 year olds shouldn't vote.
There's a lot of kids who are really stupid and don't know anything about politics that are my age.
And as for why most people that I talked to like that guy, they just had this gut feeling that 16 is really different from 18 years.
Still, child is still a kid. 16 is not a girl. There are certain things that are wrong with that age. They might not be as informed about these issues.
I mean, I'm thinking of my kids when they were 16 or my people constantly are coming up to me after events. They look at me and they say how like I trust you more to vote than me.
You know, I trust you to make a more informed decision, then I trust myself.
But what about the other what about the other 16, 17 year olds?
You know, just looking at social media perhaps gives you maybe a sense of that kind of 16 year old.
Now, to be fair, just wondering if I could ask you a quick question. Go for it. At one point, somebody did think differently. Do you think 16 year olds should be able to vote?
Oh, wow. That's a good question that I put absolutely no thought into.
Weirdly enough, that's Seth Meyers, the late night talk show host.
He was voting right where I happened to be gathering tape.
What's what's your like gut reaction? My gut reaction is you could let 16 year old votes and we wouldn't be any worse off. Do you know you're like the only person who said that?
Yeah, I believe I don't know. Now, I'm starting to doubt my answer, but I'm gonna stand by it. Maybe that's because that's my demo. Go and take it in.
As the day wore on, I actually did encounter more people who felt like maybe it's different now.
All the musicians they're listening to are also talking about politics and TV has politics.
So maybe they're more important. Maybe 16 today is different from 16 back in the day.
I'm trying to think whether or not they would have a very strong opinion. But, you know, with gun violence going on, they probably do. Yeah.
Today's most 16 year olds are mature enough to understand what's going on.
Definitely. Now, from a psychological perspective, by the time people are 16, their abilities to make thoughtful, deliberate decisions, to consult with experts when they wanted advice that those those abilities, by the time people are 16, are no worse than the abilities of adults.
That's Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University.
He says that the research out there seems to suggest that cognitively the average 16 year old isn't that different from the average 18 year old. They're both equally likely to make bad decisions.
It almost sounds like it's not that adults are smarter than 16 year olds, it's that 16 year olds are just as stupid as adults.
I guess you could look at it that way. Or let's just say that the proportion of 16 year olds who are stupid is no greater than the proportion of adults who are stupid.
If that's the case, and it really is true that the average 16 year old today is more politically aware than 16 year olds in the past than it really is hard to think of a reason why they shouldn't have the ability to vote, you know, right now, 16, 17 year olds, you know me personally, I have nothing that a politician wants.
You lower the voting age to 16. They actually come to us and they're going to actually start to care about us.
When I spoke to Alec, the vote in the D.C. Council was a couple months away and he was super optimistic that the bill had the votes that it needed in order to pass and that it would become the law of our nation's capital. If this does pass, you will see 16, 17 year olds voting in 2020. I will be 18 at that time, but I know it would be like up early that morning. And I'm going to take my neighbor, who's going to be 16 at the time, and take them to go vote like you're going to be the first 16 year old in the history of this country to vote for president.
Bill, 22, seven, seven, eight, Youth Vote Amendment Act. Twenty eighteen House member Allen. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Finally, last week, the D.C. Council met to decide the fate of the bill earlier this spring. We watched incredible voices take the helm and lead our country. We saw incredible voices talk about gun violence. We saw incredible voices talk about action. We saw incredible voices lead a national conversation that the adults had not done.
What we saw were young people stepping up to lead. And those young people were, in many cases, 16, 17 year olds. That was council member Charles Allen who opened with that statement in support of the bill. But after him, another council member spoke, Mr. Jack Evans. Mr. Chairman, again, there is significant unreadiness on behalf of some of the council members, majority of the council members. So I going to make a motion to table this bill at this time.
He proposed a motion to basically kill the bill.
There's a motion before us to table the bill. A motion to table is not debatable.
The 13 council members then voted on whether or not to table the bill.
And yes, no bonds votes. Yes, council members say yes comes no votes. Yes, Councilman Evans. Yes. That's no Evans votes. Yes. Councilman McCray. No answer, no gray votes, no Councilman Grasso. And swam across our votes. No. To make a long story short, no concern. Allen holds no. Mr. Chairman. There are seven yeses and six notes. Are the measures tabled? So for the moment, 16 year olds are not going to be voting in Washington, D.C. in 2020.
But that's just for the moment. OK, so that was November of twenty eighteen. Yeah, what has happened with Alec? Well, OK. How's it going.
I'm good. Here, let me show I start recording now. Yes, OK.
Sounds good. I called him up to find out. Yep. I'm all good. Amazing.
I'm so happy to be talking to you again. It's been so long. He's probably 80 now or so. So he's 18.
I am, yes. So you're like legal voting age now? I'm legal voting age. I voted for the first time in June in the primary.
It was a little uneventful because of the pandemic. He and his mom decided to vote by mail and he was like, yeah, I was a little bit anticlimactic, a little photo shoot out of it.
But it was a little I kind of wanted a little bit more drama.
But beyond his voting status, he just graduated from high school literally like a month ago.
Oh, congrats on graduating. Amazing. Thank you. He's going to be a freshman in the fall at DePaul University in Chicago.
Knock on wood right now. It's like, oh, we have no clue, but just stay tuned. So I'm like, okay.
And so it was cool to catch him at this time because he was kind of like looking back on what he's done and looking back on the last two years, in a way.
Um, but before I go there, I will say, like the movement itself, there's been some small incremental progress that they've made.
Like last year in March in the U.S. House of Representatives, Representative Ayanna Pressley actually proposed an amendment to another bill that was being considered that would lower the voting age in all federal elections. So not local, but but all federal elections. Interesting.
Yeah. A hundred and twenty six members of the House of Representatives actually voted yes on that amendment, nearly one hundred and six out of what's the total number?
Again, I want to say it's like 435 plus a few non-voting members. So, you know, that's quite a few. But it's probably not likely to happen at the federal level, especially in thinking about the Senate any time soon. But at the same time, in DC where this bill got tabled, I like one vote. There are three council seats opening up, which means that two opponents of the bill are on their way out. And at least one of the likely incoming members who's already won the primary seems pretty supportive of lowering the voting age.
And so I talked to council member Charles Allen, who originally introduced the bill, and he told me that he's hopeful that the votes are in their favor and that he'd like to reintroduce it. All of which for somebody like Alec, is pretty encouraging. Yeah, it is. Another thing that's happened in the time since is there's at least in some places, like in San Francisco, there's going to be a ballot question in November that would lower the voting age to 16 for all local elections.
And that like back in 2016, they had the same ballot question and it only lost by like four percentage points.
And so, you know, it does seem like there are cities where the idea is being considered seriously and like it does seem to be a thing that is gaining more traction over time.
But, you know, beyond these small, maybe hopeful things, Alec told me that he just thinks the whole conversation around this issue has shifted.
The bigger shift has been that. There are arguments that the used against us two years ago that young people do not have enough skin in the game and they do not have enough knowledge.
I think that these past couple of months have shown that that is absolutely not true, that all of the reasons that 16 year olds have just as much skin in the game as, you know, people older than them, they're all just sort of intensified in this new world that we live in.
I have friends who work in restaurants. I have friends who work at grocery stores or clothing stores. And I have so many friends who are essential workers.
And, you know, a lot of 16 year olds have jobs at pharmacies and things like that that could be considered essential by a lot of standards.
And on top of that, Alec told me we have a lot of people who want to rush us back into school, and that's something that 16 and 17 year olds have a direct stake in.
And so in a lot of ways, the pandemic has just added this layer of like why 16 year olds are actually quite relevant to the conversation. Yeah.
How do you know how well D.C. public schools are working when you don't even want to have. The very people who go to those schools five days a week for eight hours a day may have any say in that.
And the other thing that Alec told me is that his thinking has really changed around. Like, how do you fight to even have your say? Like in the story that we told where he was trying to do this two years ago? He'd done a lot of shaking hands.
You know, he'd done a lot of like showing up at the council members office and and saying the right words, kind of the respectability politics and and playing nice and smiling for the cameras.
And if I could go back and change one thing, I do wish that we would have been a little bit more loud and been a little bit more in your face to a lot of these elected officials just being able to see with my own eyes and from my experience that playing nice and playing by the rules is exactly what people who don't want us to succeed. That's exactly what they want us to do.
He essentially said to me, like instead of, you know, showing up to the council members office and, like, shaking hands, I wish we'd done like a diam where like, you know, every few minutes, you know, we represented how many 16 year olds were dying of gun violence.
OK, this council member doesn't believe that we have enough skin in the game. So we're going to stage a die in in their office. And I think by literally showing them with our skin that we are not going anywhere and that that if they vote against this bill, they're voting against 30 young people who are currently, like, laying down in their office with, you know, a dozen members of the press all filming.
And it was it was really interesting to see his sort of like radicalization in a way as like a as a social activist, not just because the vote fell through, but also because I think now he's seeing that in so many ways it goes beyond just beyond just not being able to vote like there's so many other ways that young people around him are disenfranchised and like especially young people of color.
Because if you look at the protests that have happened in Minneapolis or in D.C., it was young people of color who were getting beat by police officers. I have numerous, numerous, numerous friends who were tear gassed for Trump to to make his photo op that one night in front of the church where they were able to. Yeah. And they were able to submit testimony to the ACLU, who is actually suing for that action.
Uh, um, and and, you know, he was telling me actually, like as a D.C. resident, it's been really weird to watch because D.C., when the protests started, was flooded with National Guard forces like hundreds from different states.
We had troops from like five different states down here at one time. Yeah, like ICE and CBP were out.
All of these federal officers coming in, like me and my friends were like, oh, that's 11 o'clock at night. And, you know, a giant military helicopter carrying, you know. Twenty five armed soldiers just flew by my house like it was. Yeah, there was a probably like a solid two weeks where it was it was like it was full on.
And through all of that, I think, Alec, you know, he kind of saw this like double disenfranchisement in a way, like a lot of people respond to that, including DC's mayor, like responded to that being like, this is why we need statehood.
But in D.C., we we don't have any autonomy over that. We don't have a governor. We don't have senators. And so as much as our mayor was like, no, no, no, thank you, Trump could do essentially what he wanted. And so, you know, there are photos of my friend took a photo of outside the Lincoln Memorial. And every third step there was a whole row of like armed officials.
And so I think all around him, he's been seeing examples of like disenfranchisement of all kinds that go beyond just like being under the voting age, but also, you know, just people going out and fighting it.
Reporter Sakari. That's all for today, special thanks to D.C. Council member Charles Allen. Don't forget to check out lots of show on Netflix called Connected. And if you want to hear stories about the rest of the amendments, plus songs for each amendment written and performed by some incredible musicians, including Dolly, go to most perfect album Dog, and you can listen to them all there. I'm Jad Abumrad. Thank you for listening. Hi, I'm calling from Vienna.
Radiolab is created by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich and producers. Sorry we didn't confuse our director, who is our executive producer. That includes Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Jacob RESPA, Richard Kucik, David Gallo, Lefty Tracy and Matt Kibbe, P Window and McEuen Latif M. Sanitary Nowak at Walthers and Molly Webster with help from Shinola. I am hungry for tuna. Sarah and Beck and David and were great. Fact Checker is Michelle Harris.