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After Parkland, South Seattle Student Works To Register Young Voters

Parker Blohm
Tristan Agosa

This story is part of KNKX's series "Five Voters, Fresh Perspectives."We're looking at the 2018 election through the eyes of five people who are at a turning point in their lives.

Tristan Agosa can’t wait to turn 18. That’s when he’ll be able to vote for the first time.

It wasn't always something he was excited about. But being part of the generation that's had to live with mass school shootings on the news and lockdown drills has turned Agosa into an advocate for the importance of voting.

Parkland Was A Pivotal Moment

Tristan says he watched the news along with everyone else when the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida happened.

It was horrifying. He remembered an active shooter drill at his own high school, Kennedy High in Burien, that had him thinking about what he would do in that situation.

"Thinking about something like that changes your perspective,” Tristan said.

But, he says, after the mass shooting in Parkland, something happened. Students there started to speak out about gun violence. He was transfixed when Parkland student Emma Gonzalez called on  students around the country to get involved, call their congressmen and register to vote.

“It was so kind of eye opening because I had never thought that in high school I could really do much, you know using my status as a citizen,” said Tristan.

He says he had never really thought much about voting. Although they did vote, he says his parents never really talked about politics. In school, he says, he didn't learn about the importance of voting.

But this new student-led movement fighting gun violence was something he wanted to be a part of. So he went to the March for Our Lives event in Seattle, chanting "We Refuse To Live In Fear" along with other teenagers.

He Learned How To Register Voters

During the March For Our Lives rally, Tristan  worked registering people to vote. He’d gone to training for it.  

He says he was surprised to learn that voter registration among people 18 to 24 was just a little over 20 percent.  But, he says, when he looked around at who else was taking the training, he noticed only one quarter were young people like himself.

“The rest were middle-aged white people. Those are the people who apparently know that politics are important,” Tristan said.

Tristan is a student in the Running Start program at South Seattle College. Tristan, who's Filipino-American, says he's passionate about getting more young people of color to register to vote. As for what issues are the most important to him, he says there are a lot of them.

“I care about social justice issues because I just care about people, I guess,” Tristan said.

Tristan grew up in White Center and says he’s seen gentrification change the makeup of his neighborhood. He says he’s also concerned about climate change and gun violence , although he confesses he isn’t yet up to speed on exactly what the state initiatives on those issues would do. 

Not Quite Old Enough To Vote

Despite his activism around voter registration, Tristan himself won't be casting a ballot this time.  His 18th birthday is a few months after election day.

He says he really wishes he were just a few months older. But he still plans to read up on the issues and candidates in voters' pamphlets, which he just learned about, so that he can help guide his parents.

“I’m  interested in going through the process with them,” Tristan said.

He says he is excited that a new Washington state law that takes effect in 2019 will let 16 and 17 year olds pre-register to vote, so when they turn 18, they will automatically be registered.

People Turning 18 Grew Up With Obama As President

Like others just reaching voting age, Tristan is too young to remember 9/11 or the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

His earliest political memory was the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. He watched Obama's inaugural address on television in his second grade classroom.

A lot has happened since then.  It will be more than a decade since that speech, when Tristan Agosa finally gets a ballot for the first time and be able to vote in the 2019 local elections. He says he’ll be ready.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.