Youth Activism

On June 21, Jamie Margolin led a group of teens on a march for climate and environmental justice in Washington, DC. Margolin, the founder of This is Zero Hour, is only sixteen years old, yet she’s determined to prove adults wrong, especially those who do not believe she can make a difference. Similar to the Parkland survivors who launched March For Our Lives, Margolin represents a growing movement of youth activism that seeks to change the status quo and defeat the odds.

Recent analysis from the Washington Post and a Vox poll finding report that only 28 percent of young voters would certainly vote in this year’s midterms and have many people doubting youth activism. In spite of all the evidence against youth activism, let it be known that the young people will win.

What does winning look like? When the young people win, democracy wins because young activists are seeking to increase young voter turnout and get more young voters to the polls. In terms of impact, this could mean that many of the issues championed by young voters would finally be addressed: climate change, gun control, immigration, and socioeconomic inequality. Others believe that such young voter turnout may benefit Democrats who are looking to flip the House of Representatives to their favor. Polls show that young voters prefer Democrats to Republicans, further supporting this belief.


The Underlying Problem

Eugene Scott, a Washington Post reporter, argues that the problem around youth activism is not just getting young people interested, rather it’s keeping them engaged. The firm Political Data shows that younger voters are among those with the lowest turnout — except for 18-year-olds. It seems to be that the youngest voters are often the most excited, possibly because they overestimate the power of their vote.

The youth vote however quickly dwindles down after that age mark and as cynicism grows in the young voter, that voter becomes less reliable. This represents a significant problem. As a voter becomes older, the amount of activist energy decreases, leading that voter to become less reliable. This, in turn, acts as a detriment to the desires of the young voter, causing them to believe that voting does not matter since the government does not work for them. This is an underlying problem because it threatens our very democracy and people’s faith in our institutions.


Doubt the Doubts

If you are a young voter, these statistics may be disappointing, but after the 2016 presidential election, voters should remember that polls can be wrong. Rather than to doubt the power of your vote, doubt your doubts. A sense of optimism is driving young voters. With so many issues on the ballot this upcoming election, young voters will drive out to vote for gun control, environmental justice, working families, but more importantly, for respect. The amount of frustration felt by young voters has reached its peak. The constant denigration by the baby boomer generation will drive millennials and younger generations out to the polls to show that America can be run by them too. The Associated Press and University of Chicago’s NORC found that 32 percent of young voters would certainly vote while 56 percent were likely to also vote. This energy rides off of youth activism and the unprecedented engagement of these groups. Ultimately, the only statistic that will matter will be the actual percentage of young voters who turn up. Whether young voters will show themselves to be a volatile electorate will come down to November’s midterm election. 

There is, however, strong evidence that the young people will win. After the Parkland survivors took announced a voting registration tour, young voter registrations are up forty-one percent. In California, the launch of pre-registration at the age of sixteen has also quickly driven up the number of registered voters, automatically registering those young citizens once they turn eighteen.


The Battle and War to Come

Even so, if young people do show up in large numbers, the war to come will revolve around maintaining that momentum. There’s no denying that this generation of young voters is more politically motivated during this administration than during the Bush, Clinton, and arguably the Obama era. They’re politically motivated because time is running out on many issues. This is Zero Hour formed because the time to act on climate change is almost over. March For Our Lives was formed because the gun epidemic shouldn’t exist. The Supreme Court justice that will likely shape the court for their generation also hinges upon this election. A poll from Cosmopolitan and SurveyMonkey found that young adults are unusually motivated and more likely to vote this upcoming midterm election in comparison to past elections. While voter turnout this upcoming election is also a challenge, the real challenge needs to focus on finding ways to engage young voters.


Possible Solutions

Representation matters; Ocasio’s victory over Rep. Crowley shows that having younger candidates to vote for encourages more millennials will show up. One solution to the problem of the youth vote is encouraging young people to run for office.

Another solution could be partnering with social media influencers and/or Hollywood to get out the vote, specifically targeting young voters. Young activists, like David Hogg, also have a huge online presence, with thousands of followers on Twitter. With the social media playing a larger role in many people’s lives, young activists can also take to social media to create their own platform and express their views on certain social issues.

To keep young people engaged, America needs to appeal to this electorate through the solutions mentioned above.

No matter what solution America decides to implement, it is clear that the young people will win. They will win by being a critical electorate in the 2018 midterm election. They will win by getting issues they care about heard. But, more importantly, they will make their voices heard and continue to vote.

Image Attribute: Pixabay