Let’s Write Universal Suffrage Songs With Children

They’ve Done it Again
words and music by Dorothy Cresswell
© 2017 Dorothy Cresswell

They’ve done it again
They’ve done it again
The children have done it again
Stirred up with emotion
They’ve worked with devotion
And changed how the outcome would end, again
They’ve changed how the outcome would end. . .

So when you are sad
Or when you are mad
Speak up, speak your mind, tell it true
Whatever your age is
When something outrages
Who knows, it could change thanks to you, to you
The outcome could change thanks to you

I first heard “They’ve Done It Again” and met Dorothy (and Val, Molly, Liz, Cindy, and Amy) during the CMN Newcomers’ Zoom Chat in September 2021. When my turn came, I introduced myself as a mom and advocate for children’s voting rights, then I sang this ditty, (to the tune of “Row, Row Your Boat”):

Vote, vote, cast your vote
Choose who will represent
But if they won’t allow you—yet
Shout loudly, “I dissent!”

The day after that Newcomers’ Zoom Chat, I emailed Dorothy to tell her with delight that I’d found an online recording of “They’ve Done it Again”; I’d shared it with one of my Children’s Voting Colloquium colleagues, professor emeritus of political science Michael Cummings; and his reaction was, “Endearing and inspiring!”

I’d felt confident that Michael would like it, because both Dorothy’s song and his book, Children’s Voices in Politics, give examples of children as active, powerful, impactful citizens. However, Michael’s book is a hefty 536 pages, while Dorothy’s song is a catchy earworm. No wonder songs have been used before to advance the cause of universal suffrage, as in Ethel Smyth’s “March of the Women” and fictional Max Frost and the Troopers’ “Fourteen or Fight!

Dorothy emailed a follow-up question: “In our area they are voting on letting sixteen-year-olds vote. What age are you suggesting?”

I replied, “It’s clear that being disenfranchised is harmful to individuals and groups, so after four years of reading deeply and widely, I believe that age need not and must not be a disqualifier. Children are stakeholders, children are citizens, here and now. Specifically, I champion An Act to Remove the Voting Age Requirement H.810, 192 Cong. (2022). I elaborated in a few paragraphs and finished this way: “Thank you for being curious. It means a lot to me.”

Dorothy answered, “It clearly does!! These are new ideas for me. Thank you for sharing that this is a growing movement. Very interesting!”

Then, on Val Smalkin’s recommendation, I spoke with longtime CMNers Jenny and David Heitler-Klevans, asking what they knew about children’s voting songs and how I might find collaborators for new ones. Their answers, respectively, were “Vote for Me,” by Faya Ora Rose Touré, and “CMN Forum.”

If you look back to the CMN Forum in October 2021, you’ll see that David started a thread called, “CMN mother-advocate wants your help spreading universal suffrage messages to children.” Among the replies, Lisa Heinz and Joanie Calem shared about Pint Size Protestors in Ohio, and Dorothy gave me this wonderful gift: a new suffrage verse for “They’ve Done It Again”!

When they heard the news, it gave them the blues,
That children do not get to vote.
At first they were sad, and then they were mad
Then they spoke up and showed that they should and they would!
They spoke up to say that they should!

“At first I resisted this idea,” Dorothy explained in the email thread,

but the more I ponder it, the more I think: Kids have a clearer moral compass than many adults. Let the children share in the problem-solving! . . . May we adults try to quiet our arguments and listen to their reasoning and clarity. Robin has challenged my assumptions and I’m living with the question right now. But I will add my song! I’m all about supporting and amplifying children’s voices. Please do sing it! And keep this conversation going.

CMN’s values of social justice and inclusion have come across clearly to me during the 2021 Annual Conference, the music award nominees Listening Party, the Wednesday Song Swaps, and in members’ original work. I’ve been glad to see on our About CMN page that members are artists, educators, advocates, and combinations of the three. I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about children’s suffrage that compels me to be a changemaker, so you can consider whether this speaks to you as an injustice to overcome too.

I’ve been glad to see that CMN members are artists, educators, advocates, and combinations of the three. I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about children’s suffrage that compels me to be a change­maker, so you can consider whether this speaks to you too.

I want to empower children’s voices through the ballot box. I pivoted to this, coming from activism on specific child-focused issues; for example, diaper-changing tables and stepstools in public bathrooms, safe indoor air quality in schools, and tolerance for children’s noise in apartment buildings.

I’ve spent countless hours reaching out to people who might care, because it will take popular support to change the law. I’ve made a website to highlight the problem and encourage creative peer-peer persuasion: I’ve been cultivating civic friendships within organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children, the Center for Election Science, and Elders Action Network. I’ve shared a common purpose with other caring people while devoting myself to this calling, and it feels right, so I keep at it.

After emailing with many authors of papers and articles on voting age reform, I cofounded the Children’s Voting Colloquium to foster learning and discussions. All are welcome to join our listserv and our monthly virtual gatherings.

I contacted my legislators to file bills in Massachusetts, such as the previously mentioned Act to Remove the Voting Age Requirement. Testimony in favor of H.810 from several organizations and individuals was heard by the Joint Committee on Election Law. I’m working to build a coalition to champion this over multiple legislative sessions.

If H.810 were to be enacted, it would no longer be illegal for an otherwise-qualified under-sixteen-year-old to become registered (Massachusetts is among the states that allows pre-registration) and for an under-eighteen-year-old to receive their own ballot. The newly enfranchised would be able to seek any needed assistance that is available to any other voter under the Massachusetts Voters’ Bill of Rights. Like any other voter, they’d be entitled to privacy while voting or assistance from two poll workers if that was their preference. Massachusetts does not restrict the right to vote on the basis of mental capacity; with ballots to their names, children would gain access to the same signifier of equal worthiness currently enjoyed by people with mental impairments.

As you make up your mind about what age group you think it is fair or unfair for our government to deny voting eligibility to, there’s lots to consider. Remember that voting is power, voice, and a means of protection. Voters often look to endorsements from people or groups they trust to help them make up their mind about how to vote, whether for a candidate or a referendum question. Most voters are moved by available evidence and persuasion. Voters have complex interdependencies.

Voters’ priorities are influenced by their experiences and values. Some voters cast a blank ballot or one that indicates preferences for only some portion of the ballot. Some voters make poorly informed choices or vote at random or write in a goofy name—those ballots still count. Habitual voting, regardless of political preferences, causes a person to be flagged as someone with propensity to vote, someone to engage with, someone whose emails, calls, or requests for a meeting merit responses. Being able to participate in self-government is motivation to become informed and to obey laws. To be a voter is to be dignified, to belong among “we the people.”

Geared to ages seven and up and with a nod to Schoolhouse Rock, the 2021 Netflix series called We the People has introduced civics songs with messages relevant to children’s suffrage. In “Active Citizenship,” H.E.R. sings,

Go out and vote, ’cause I know it counts . . .
Know you’re never too young to make a difference.
You have the power to be an active citizen.

In “Taxes,” Cordae raps,

So you gotta vote, bruh
And it’s super beneficial
’Cause you have a say
In who’s your local officials
And they decide on
How to slice the pie
And how to spend the budget
To help the general public
So you gotta stay aware
And let’s keep on discussin’
’Cause if you don’t use your voice
Then you don’t have nothin’
I don’t have all the answers,
So I’ll leave you with this
Do your own research, bruh
’Cause it’s to your benefit
So whether you believe that taxes
Should be raised or lowered
It only really matters if you voted.

Children’s voting rights would fulfill the vision of political equality pronounced after World War II in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with its forward-looking promise of “universal and equal suffrage” intended for “all human beings”—men, women, and children. Refer to this clip from UNWebTV if you don’t believe that children can claim human rights.

The subsequent treaty that moves States Parties towards obligations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, says:

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives, b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.

There are multiple strategies underway in this international movement. There are legal challenges to voting age, alleging that it’s unjustifiable discrimination—in Canada, seeking to eliminate the minimum voting age, citing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Young Canadians Sue Federal Government”) and in New Zealand, seeking to lower the voting age to sixteen on the basis of inconsistency with the Bill of Rights Act (Make It 16).

Civil society groups host debates of the issue, such as the Annual British Youth Parliament Debate. Scholarly and popular articles are published for readers’ consideration; a collection of these can be found on the Children’s Voting Colloquium Resources page. There are legislative initiatives. Some people propose lowering the voting age to sixteen (U.S. Representative Grace Meng [D-NY], lead sponsor of H.J.Res. 23: Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States Extending the Right to Vote to Citizens Sixteen Years of Age or Older) or to age twelve (retired Minnesota Representative Phyllis Khan) or to six (British politics professor David Runciman). Some propose proxy votes for parents, such as Hungarian demographer Paul Demeny, Canadian economist Miles Corak, and American family law professor Jane Rutherford. Some propose proxy voting until a child claims their right to vote independently, among them childhood studies professor John Wall, American demographer Lyman Stone, and UK-based professor of neonatal medicine Neena Modi.

Then-eleven-year-old performer YoungDylan sings about wanting to have his voice heard in his song “Vote Vote Vote” for the 2020 Kids Pick the President election special episode of the Nickelodeon entertainment network.

Despite divergent strategies, what these reform proponents have in common is a belief that denying under-eighteens the right to vote is unjust and a problem worthy of attention and examination.

Too many children stay silent about political issues rather than share their good ideas and energy. It could be because they remain stunted in their awareness of how American democracy works, or it could be because systemic oppression can be internalized: “Since I’m ‘too young’ to be a voter, I’d be an outsider at political forums designed for voters.”

Do mock elections edify or disillusion? They are separate; they are unequal. Do kids think they’re a sham?

In a December 2020 op-ed, the leader of the Children’s Defense Fund argued that children had the most at stake in the election, yet they were the largest group without eligibility to vote (“How Biden Can Prioritize the 74 Million Americans Who Couldn’t Vote”). In my state, Massachusetts, the latest census shows that 19.6 percent of the population is under eighteen years old (Census QuickFacts), and this varies widely by town (

I hope to inspire other CMN members to use the accessibility of music—and the power of co-creating and co-performing music—to explore voting rights with kids, caregivers, and allies. If a whole song’s too much, simply make a reference, as the Okee Dokee Brothers did in the lyrics of “The Abominable Yeti”:

The yeti said he’s just been misunderstood
He pays taxes and always votes.

Unsure about taking on the future of voting? Reenact the past, as “Sister Suffragette” Mrs. Banks did in the 1964 Mary Poppins film:

Our daughters’ daughters will adore us
And they’ll sing in grateful chorus.

Message visually with an accompanying music video, like Raffi did with his 2020 song “Vote Vote Vote”—or think up a set of movements or call-response lines to enhance the singing (Y-M-C-A? V-O-T-E!). I learned by writing “Vote, Vote, Cast Your Vote” that it’s fun, like a puzzle, to come up with new suffrage lyrics to old favorite songs. Try “This ’Lection” to the tune of “This Old Man,” or “When the Kids March to the Polls!” to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

I hope to inspire other CMN members to use the accessibility of music to explore voting rights with kids, caregivers, and allies.

If you have an artist residency in a school, camp, or afterschool program, consider prompting: What about kids and the right to vote? You might bring in a guest speaker to interview about struggles for voting access or fair elections, past or present (“Tell us your experience of . . .” the 26th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Motor Voter Act, 2000 election, etc.).

Find inspiration in Nolan Williams Jr.’s 2020 voting anthem, “I Have A Right To Vote.” Remember the Schoolhouse Rock song about the Votes for Women movement in the United States, “Sufferin’ Until Suffrage” (“Not a woman here could vote no matter what age”). Use your star status as a children’s musician to be a voting role model, like the YouTubers who created shorts for the campaign #voteIRL or like the Sony Music Group artists who appeared in the 2020 election “get out the vote” video, “Your Voice, Your Power, Your Vote.”

Create a song that would give someone a feeling as good and motivating as receiving a voter kit from Party at the Mailbox. Bring children together to collaborate with (or perform for) a local chapter of an organization that helps with voter registration—like When We All Vote, the League of Women Voters, Students Learn Students Vote, Vot-ER—or simply make it a routine to encourage voter registration at your gigs! Maybe you’ll be hired to play for political rallies!

Wonderful books that could help launch a songwriting activity include:

I happen to love Porky Pig riffing, “That’s democracy, folks!” at the end of “Suffragette City,” a song from the Animaniacs 2020 reboot. In the song, by railing against being a disenfranchised cartoon, Dot Warner shows kids how to channel their outrage productively when they learn that they don’t have the right to vote—yet.

Won’t you please be curious about, think about, and sing about children’s voting rights too?

For Further Reflection

It’s very frustrating that I have to depend on other people to vote for things I care about. It makes me mad. I think kids have more sense than some of the adults—we should be allowed to vote! But it’s also important to be educated and not just follow what everyone else is doing.