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50 years ago this Pacific student helped change the U.S. Constitution so college students could vote

Dennis Warren was a pre-law major at Pacific in 1969 when he started the Let Us Vote campaign to lower the voting age.

Fifty years ago Pacific pre-law student Dennis Warren was a key player in getting young people the right to vote. On this Constitution Day, we’re remembering Dennis’s work in getting the 26th Amendment ratified.

Dennis started the Let Us Vote (LUV) movement from his room at Pacific in 1968 after meeting Sen. Birch Bayh, who spoke on campus about voting rights for young people. It was the height of the Vietnam War, and young men were being drafted to serve. However, people who were 18, 19 or 20 years old couldn’t vote in most states.

The campaign that started in his dorm room at Pacific quickly grew to more than 300 college chapters and 3,000 high schools.

In 1969 Time magazine described Dennis as “the very antithesis of the stereotype student radical, Warren wears his hair closely cropped, dresses in conservative pinstripe suits and black shoes. As a sophomore, he won two gold medals at the Pi Kappa Delta national debating tournament.”

Dennis used his skills of persuasion to provide a voice for young people in the national debate over lowering the voting age. On July 1, 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified.

In January 1969, Dennis made his argument before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments. Here is the transcript of his remarks:

Mr. Warren:  Senator Bayh and Senator Thurman, I am sure it is unnecessary to relate the pattern of recent events that have demonstrated to this Nation and the world the frustration, concern, and confusion that has become rampant among our youth and jeopardizes all efforts to narrow the communication gap that exists between young adults and their predecessors.  I think it sufficient to say that the President and others have found it necessary to note that we are more advanced in our scientific endeavors than in our development of spirit; closer to the moon than to moral rapport on earth.

Psychologists, sociologists, educators, and political leaders agree that young adults today are confused by the values offered to them by the older generation.  They are impatient and intolerant of being labeled as going through “preparation for life” for they are living; because they argue they are dying in the uniform of their country; they are marrying; they are paying taxes; they are becoming the most highly educated and best-trained generation this Nation has ever known’ they are getting involved in a variety of government and private projects in every facet of industry and throughout the world and they are genuinely concerned with social and moral values.

Despite all of the things they are doing, gentlemen, it is still necessary for them to continually say and occasionally shout, either vocally or by dress or by action —“Listen to me, I have something to say. I care.”

My generation is as concerned as any previous one with learning the tools of a trade, preparing to make a successful living, and insuring economic survival, but as a result of better education, travel, scientific advances, and rapid communication, we are asking poignant and piercing questions that must be answered, and they must be answered now.

We ask: Who are you?—and where are we going—and more importantly, we ask why.

I suggest to the Congress of the United States and all charged with governing this Nation that our generation will no longer accept as right that which merely exists.  We can no longer adhere to ox-cart standards in a space age.  We will not accept promises of equity while being served inequity.  There is no way to separate the matter which is before this committee today and the other frustrations that young adults sense with respect to their Government.

We are asked to bear arms and yet we are denied the right to vote for those who determine whether there be war.  We are asked to represent this Nation in all parts of the world and yet cannot explain why, in this fortress of democracy, those at a certain age cannot vote while in many other countries 18-year-olds are franchised.

We are asked to explain our way of life and yet are saddled with the in defensible, archaic electoral system which has three times denied the people of this country the President of their choice.  During the past several weeks I’ve had an opportunity to visit with students on campuses throughout the Nation.  I’ve also met with veterans and young people who are married and employed and struggling.  Their plea is a universal one.

I suggest this committee has a unique opportunity to take the first and perhaps most significant step in answering that plea.  That answer must be a total commitment by you—by our Government, to that which is obviously already the will of the people—people of all ages.

The Electoral College system is inconsistent with the goals, the ideals, the very dogma of democracy.  You must allow citizens of all ages to achieve the dignity of meaningful voting; next, you must expand the franchise to include 12 million young Americans, young men and women, who are otherwise treated and are acting as adults.

I genuinely believe that the generation gap, which is a reality, can be closed and experience with time-tested talent may be merged with the vigor and enthusiasm of youth for the reunification of our Nation.

I remind you of the message of your late colleague, Robert Kennedy, who stated at Berkeley, Calif., that if you, wish to retain the right to demand to be heard—you must first be willing to listen and to have your thoughts measured in the marketplace of free ideas. 

Yes, young people today are demanding to be heard, but young people, too, are willing to listen.  But, what can we learn and what can we gain from listening to just what we want to hear?  Those who oppose expansion of the franchise—those who resist Electoral College reform must come forward to the campuses of America—to the veterans’ meetings, to the union halls, and yet, even to the high schools to debate the issues—to show both sides of the topic so that American s of every age can make their own decision.

I reiterate my appreciation for this unique opportunity which I humbly will cherish as the most memorable incident of my youth.  I ask that for the millions who cannot appear before you, the committee offer an even more memorable and precious gift—the right to the dignity of citizenship.  The political ostrich hides its head but the problems still remain.

It would be repetitious on my part if I were to go through many of the arguments that have already been advanced for the Electoral College reform.  Later on in my testimony I submit my own specific analysis of the particular type of proposals that are advocated, and I present as a predicate for the following recommendation which represents, I think, the views of the majority of young students across the country.

First, I suggest that this committee recommend to the Senate of the United States the approval of the chairman’s proposal which would provide a direct vote for the Presidency of the United States and direct democracy

Second, I suggest that future hearings of this specific committee should be brought to the campuses throughout the United States; that they should be brought to the young people, those people who have the most to gain, and the most to lose, from our political system; that the hearing should be brought to the young people so they can tell it as it is. 

And, third, I suggest that the opposition to the Electoral College reform and to the enlargement of the franchise come down off Capitol Hill, come off of the prestigious mountain to where the people are, to where the young people are, so that we can debate, we can talk, and we can have communication.

Thank you very much.

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