Three years ago, a young man from Bakersfield went to Sacramento for the first time in his life. He was the only student from Kern County to participate in this youth summit, and he was a bit nervous about going alone. But he quickly realized he was in fact a part of something much bigger: hundreds of youth activists from all over the state, learning about state politics and meeting with legislators to advocate for their communities.
Three years later, that same young man—now an organizer and PhD candidate in political science— returned to this summit, and in front of an audience of hundreds of young people, posed questions to the two candidates for state superintendent of public instruction. Later that weekend, he led a delegation from Kern County that met with legislators, just one of three delegations because there was so many Kern County youth participating.
I am proud to be that young man. Three years after my first trip to Sacramento, I served as moderator during Youth Power to the Polls, a one-of-a-kind, youth-led candidate forum where young people asked the two superintendent candidates how they plan to ensure equity and justice for California’s students.
These youth leaders from across California were brought together for the 2018 Youth Power Summit, a conference focused on building the power and leadership of California’s young people. Over the course of four days, youth attended workshops to learn new skills, built community and solidarity with one another, and spoke truth to power in many different ways. Sharing their powerful stories, their rhymes, and their goals, young people lifted each other up and embraced one another on the issues they cared about.
There is a common misconception by older folks that youth simply ‘don’t care about politics.’ I can tell you from my experience that this is definitely not the case. At Youth Power to the Polls, I saw young people asking the tough questions, the real questions, to our candidates for State Superintendent.
During the Summit, I saw young people chanting outside our State Capitol, rallying for justice and transparency. I saw youth conduct over 100 legislative visits with legislators and staffers, as they shared their stories, and explained complex issues and statistics. These youth knew Assembly and Senate bill numbers as if they were their own personal phone numbers! And they were not afraid to mention that they themselves were constituents or soon to be voters.
More than even some adults, these young people know that MIDTERM ELECTIONS MATTER, and that this next election will have a drastic impact on their lives. In less than 70 days, young people will have the opportunity to weigh in on important issues like education, rent control, and who will lead our state as governor.
Youth, and particularly youth of color are a powerful voting block. When we look at the millennial generation for example, we are the largest and most diverse generation in our state’s history. One in three Californians are millennials, and seven out of 10 millennials are people of color. Half of young voters aged 18-24 are youth of color in our state.
When we talk about youth led movements, we can look to the Parkland students who have courageously led a movement towards gun reform alongside youth from Community Coalition from Los Angeles. We’ve seen youth at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, young Dreamer activists fighting for immigration reform, and Native American youth who helped spark the Standing Rock movements as well.
And we’re just getting started. Today in California, more than 150,000 16 and 17 year-olds who will be 18 by November have already pre-registered to vote.
Our vote is our voice. And this November, our voices will be heard as we rise together as one and ensure that our communities have the equity and justice that they deserve.