At 14 years old, Bristol resident Ethan Sonneborn is by far the youngest candidate in the 2018 race for governor. And he’s using his platform to get more young people interested in civics.
Sonneborn, a Democrat, says he’s running for governor in part because young people don’t have enough of a voice in public policy debates.
On Wednesday, he helped launch the Good Citizen Challenge, which encourages kids to talk to their elected officials, visit historic sites and develop media literacy skills.
Sonneborn says something as simple as visiting the Statehouse can spark an interest in the political process.
“I think it starts something bigger for you that leads to more engagement,” Sonneborn says. “I think it leads you to come back here and talk to your legislator. I think it leads you to march on the front lawn about an issue you care about.”
Sonneborn says the wave of youth activism that followed the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year is “fantastic.”
“But we have to turn this moment into a movement," Sonneborn said, "and we have to turn that movement into sustained action that will get more young people involved in the process in the long term.”
The Good Citizen Challenge was developed by Seven Days and Kids VT.
Kids get points for completing various civics activities, and the first 100 to rack up 251 points (the number of towns in Vermont) receive a Good Citizen t-shirt.
All children that complete the challenge receive a medal and an invitation to a Statehouse reception this fall.
Seven Days deputy publisher Cathy Resmer is leading the project.
“How can Americans participate in their democracy, or defend it, if they don’t understand the principles on which it rests?” Resmer said in a release. “As former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, ‘Civic knowledge can’t be handed down the gene pool. It has to be learned.’”
Children who want to participate in the challenge can download a scorecard or find on in this week’s edition of Seven Days.
This post was edited at 3:37 p.m.