By Nathaniel Fenton
In American history, we have waged many wars: the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, Iraq War and many other undeclared wars, and we’ve even had a War on Poverty and a War on Drugs.
We are now engaged in waging a War on Youth. How is it manifested? Ask the youth of our country. They may tell us it is manifested:
“By charging me $70,000-plus to attend a college or university for one year, an amount that is out of reach of most of us.
By offering us government loans to pay college costs we are unable to afford and then charging us interest on these loans at the rates of 3.76 percent for undergraduates, 5.31 percent for graduate or professional programs and 6.31 percent (Direct PLUS Loans) for graduate or professional programs, rates that are probably more than what you paid on your last car or home equity loan.
By permitting and encouraging the size of federal and private student loans to grow to an estimated $1.38 trillion, more than for auto loans, credit cards, or any other nonmortgage loan category, an average of $37,000 per graduate, thereby shackling us to moneylenders in return for the degree that might get us a decent job.
By limiting the deduction of our student loan interest to $2,500 per year whereas you can deduct up to approximately $30,000 per year of your mortgage loan interest.
By exempting our college loans from discharge in bankruptcy unless we can prove ‘undue hardship,’ a burden that neither you nor our president has to prove to have your debts or his debts discharged in bankruptcy.
By permitting one in six of us to live in food-insecure homes, that is, approximately 13,000,000 of us being close to starving in the ‘breadbasket of the world.’
By teaching us that the worth of a man or woman is determined by the size of their wallet or purse, and not by their character (‘rich people work harder, poor people are lazy’).
By imprisoning us who are Dreamers and then deporting us to countries that we don’t even remember living in after promising us that if we registered with you, advised you of our whereabouts, our employment or schooling, our lack of a criminal record, we would be safe from deportation.
By violating the most basic tenet of American jurisprudence, that a child shall not be punished for the crimes perpetrated by his parents (in the case of Dreamers, we are being punished for being minor children of parents as to whom we had no choice for their act of illegally entering into this country).
By allowing us to be slaughtered in our schools and not passing one single gun safety law, still allowing you to buy military-style assault rifles to maintain your ‘freedom’ and the murderer’s ability to kill us by the scores with his military weapon (what about our ‘freedom?’), to buy large capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers to make our murder even easier.
By not even passing a gun registration law to close the loopholes, and by our legislators capitulating to the wishes of the NRA rather than insuring the safety of your children and grandchildren.
By threatening to suspend or expel us from school when we decide to march out of school on the one-month anniversary in memory of the 17 killed at Parkland and all other students who have been killed over the past 10 years.
By endangering us in so many ways that the USA has the ‘worst overall mortality rate [for youth] compared with those of 19 other wealthy nations,’ the highest infant mortality rate among 20 developed nations, and for those of us who are 15-19, we are 82 times more likely to die from gun violence than in any other wealthy, democratic nation, all this in a country that claims to value human life.
By permitting those of us in low-income families, as compared with those in middle-high-income families, to be less likely to be covered by health insurance, less likely to have had a medical office visit or a dental visit, less likely to have medicines prescribed or to have used hospital outpatient services.
By expending only 25 percent of total medical expenditures for 40 percent of the population, low-income children.
By permitting the attempts of some states, and of the governor of our state of Maine, to hinder or prevent the administration of Narcan when one of us, suffering from drug addiction, overdoses and will needlessly die without the administration of Narcan.
By incarcerating us at a rate (336 per 100,000) that is almost five times greater than the rate (69 per 100,000) of the next highest country (New Zealand) and seven times greater than Great Britain, 14 times greater than Germany, 30 times greater than Italy, 80 times greater than Sweden and 3,000 times greater than Japan.
And for those of us who are black, by incarcerating us at a rate almost five times the rate of those of us who are white, all costing you the annual sum of $88,000 per juvenile inmate (you would be better off sending us each to a private school or paying our tuition at a college or university, but no, you’d rather send us to prison).
By incarcerating us as juveniles resulting in less probability of us graduating from high school and more probability of us entering adult prisons by the time we are 25.
By placing above our welfare the economic benefit to contractors of building more and more prisons and the economic benefit of hiring more and more guards.
By electing a president and Congress who promise ‘change’ and then enact the ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,’ which, rather than affecting ‘change’ that would help us, those who need the help, gives 16.5 percent of the total benefit to those households earning $1 million or more, representing .4 percent of all tax filers; and by 2027 will be giving 81.8 percent of the total benefit to those households earning $1 million or more, estimated then to be 0.6 percent of all tax filers, and will be giving 53 percent of the tax filers (those households earning less than $75,000) an increase in their taxes; with the result that those people who are the richest people who have ever lived in the world will be further enriched at the expense, in part, of those of us who will still be trying to pay off our student debt, and who still may not be able to afford to buy a home or start a family.
With all the above attacks on us, who is surprised that our suicide rates are soaring for the period from 2006 to 2016, a 70 percent increase for white 10- to 17-year-olds, and a 77 percent increase for black 10- to 17-year-olds?”
I once was young and remember that many of the youth in my generation were sent off to fight in a war our leaders knew we could not win. Over 56,000 of us died in that war, and tens of thousands more were injured, many grievously. It makes me sick that we are again waging a war on our youth today.
For me, as a first step, I pledge not to vote for, or donate to, any candidate who does not fully support the abolition of assault rifles, large capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers, and the registration for all gun purchases and transfers. Please join me in taking your first step, whatever it may be, on your path to end this war.
We are crushing our children and destroying our country’s greatest asset. This struggle is the eternal struggle between right and wrong. Choose right over wrong. Choose our children. They are right.
Nathaniel Fenton lives in Lamoine and is an attorney with Eaton Peabody in Ellsworth.