For most of the world, the US drinking age stands alone as a high bar. Christopher Ogle from NYRA thinks it's time to change that.
One piece Youth Time brought to you in April 2021 was an interview with the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) – the United States (US) largest organisation fighting for the rights of all young people.
While during our discussion we highlighted the organisation’s contribution toward challenging the age discrimination and prejudice youth are experiencing, there’s one aspect of NYRA’s work that Youth Time thought its worth digging more into.
That’s the current minimum age to legally purchase alcohol in the U.S – it being 21 makes the U.S minimum drinking age one of the highest in the world.
Christopher Ogle, an American youth activist advocating together with NYRA for lowering drinking age in the US, elaborates his concerns with the U.S. drinking age and how it impedes the rights of young Americans and affects the reputation of the nation.
Passionate about civil rights issues, and the world and society at large is his influence, he believes that only a world perspective can truly inform US society on what is most effective in having a stable society.
Ogle speaks about why and how we can raise awareness of this issue.
Advocating for Lower Drinking Age Limit
According to him, the US drinking age as it stands impedes on the rights of all adults for the first three years of their adult lives, and denies them full access to the lives they are living.
“Considering that they are adults by age 18, they go to schools with adults where alcohol is present and work among colleagues who are of legal age, and yet they are excluded from so many social events because they are under 21 years of age.”
He further elaborates on its implications for justice.
“The Justice System although unjustly punishes these adults under 21 for drinking, as they can face hefty fines, having driving rights suspended or revoked, retractions on financial aid or scholarships, expulsion from colleges and universities, and even jail time, even if their drinking was of no harm to their surroundings or themselves.”
As Ogle has been involved in this issue for several years and has worked extensively with NYRA, he tells us why it is important that we talk about this and increase awareness of this issue.
In addition, this issue leads Americans to unnecessary trouble and penal measures for behaviour that is normal for individuals their age.
“This also shows a backward image of the U.S. for outsiders, and affects tourism in our country, studying abroad, and industry.
“I also believe that expressing this concern to outsiders will bring to light the struggle for rights in our country among this age demographic and bring more pressure from the outside world for the US to change,” he says.
Drinking Age and Youth Rights
If you are wondering if drinking age affects youth rights, and if so, how, Ogle has an explanation.
“It infringes on the quality of life for youth, as it excludes them from so many social situations, such as social events, parties, ceremonies, nightclubs, and restaurants.”
Besides, youth also get unequal representation under U.S. law as they can be arrested for the simple act of consuming alcohol, possessing it, or even being in the presence of it.
“The illegality of it has forced an underground drinking culture, and peers refuse to report cases of intoxication for fear of legal repercussions, which has caused a disproportionate number of deaths among 18-20 years olds over the last four decades.”
Drinking Age and Invasion of Privacy
Checking NYRA’s page, one can understand that the organisation considers drinking age as a matter of what people can do in the privacy of their own home, and also what jobs they can get, and even whether they can see their favourite band.
Ogle argues on this too.
“Most times, underage drinking is a priority for law enforcement and shutting down parties in private homes and college campuses are top priority in many American cities, leading to frivolous arrests.
“Jobs in the service industry are heavily regulated for those 18-20, as they often cannot serve alcohol if underage as a wait staff member, can’t tend a bar, and can’t even enrol in culinary courses if alcohol is used.”
Adding that many restaurants will also kick out individuals under 21 when food service stops and they only serve beverages past a certain hour.
“As far as concerts go, there are many bands that I have heard choose not to go on tour in the U.S. because their members are below 21, and at concerts those under 21 have to wear a wristband to show that they are under 21 to make enforcement easier,” he stresses.
A Movement Grows
Activists like Ogle believe drinking age questions the maturity and capabilities of young people well after it makes any sense to do so.
Ogle finds an increase of young Americans supporting this cause, which he thinks is largely attributed to the increasing internationalism and global awareness in the US.
“More and more young people are traveling overseas to places where the drinking age is lower and more are aware that a lower drinking age is customary internationally.
“I have attempted to make a group at a college I attended centred on youth rights and age restriction and I had a fair bit of support from many students.”
While talking about this issue, politics is something we cannot exclude from the discussion.
In conclusion, Ogle shed some light on the historic background of the matter.
“In 1984 when the drinking age of 21 was signed into law was the height of the Reagan Administration, which turned back the clock on many social issues, like criminal justice reform, reproductive rights, the teaching of science, prayer in school, and although it isn’t commonly discussed I believe the drinking age was heavily influenced by this administration,” he says.
Is there something you would like to add to this discussion? Agree or disagree?
Reach NYRA’s team via its webpage. Or, reach out to Youth Time’s Grese Sermaxhaj if there’s a similar issue you are working on and would like to spread the word.
Want to hear more from Christopher Ogle? Here, he introduced NYRA to Youth Time.
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