#18in18 – The Hashtag That Took Missouri By Storm

We all want our voice to be heard and being a member of the Missouri Parent Teacher Association gives each of us a voice that is 44,000 strong. This is the story about an idea that evolved into a movement in less than six months. This is the story about a student who became a voice to create change. This is the story of #18in18.

2017 was an eventful year in Missouri, but 2018 offered a chance for Missouri to further its reputation as a leader in juvenile justice. SB 793, also known as Raise the Age Missouri, broke through the cloud covering our capital city and offered a ray of sunshine that brought excitement and strength to a grassroots cause.

Missouri PTA has been a proud member of the Raise the Age Coalition, but it was at a meeting with our partners that campaign plans began with a focus on the use of student members to promote and bring awareness. Raise the Age SB793 could propel Missouri forward to match 44 other states with similar laws protecting minors from being prosecuted as adults and serving time in adult facilities. Without this piece of legislation, a child as young as nine (9) years old could be housed with an adult offender in the same cell.

“Youth housed in adult jails are four times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile detention. Youth in adult prisons face high risks of violence and sexual assault, and they often spend up to 23 hours every day in solitary confinement, leading to physical and psychological harm.” – Raise the Age Missouri

Missouri PTA members found this gap in our state’s justice system to be reprehensible and its members chose to be part of the solution. The Missouri PTA Legislation and Advocacy Department utilized one of our most valuable assets, our Student Representatives, and brainstormed ideas to get involved and support this vital piece of legislation. Will Wiese, former Student Representative and current Advocacy Chair for MO PTA, proposed a social media campaign. The campaign was discussed with the coalition, and #18in18 was mutually agreed upon. The grassroots movement that began as a conversation quickly grew, and by the end of 2017, there were hundreds of #18in18 social media posts from school officials to students. The tagline: Because 17 is too young was also trending.

Parents were sharing stories of shock and horror as they imagined their young children in this vulnerable situation. Educators and community advocates publicly supported Raise the Age Missouri, passionately pleading with their communities to take a stand with them. Missouri’s students and youth spoke up and shared the social media posts and news articles, creating even more buzz.  

By the time Missouri PTA representatives attended the National PTA Legislative Conference in March 2018, #18in18 had reached advocates nation-wide, bringing attention to the large impact of a simple campaign.

On May 10, 2018, SB 793 was truly agreed upon and passed by a nearly unanimous vote. On May 30th, 2018, it was signed by both the Senate President Pro Tem and the House Speaker and delivered to the Governor’s desk. On June 1, 2018, less than 6 months after the bill was prefiled, SB 793 – Raise the Age Missouri- was signed by the Governor.

We all want our voices to be heard. This is the story with a happy ending because we spoke up, spoke loudly, and became part of the change that now protects Missouri’s children and their future.

Kristina Wilmoth
Vice President and Director of Legislation & Advocacy
Missouri PTA