It’s getting old.
Patronizing generalists like to say that young people have “coddled minds . . . and (an) inability to understand the way the world works.” We’re told that we’re apathetic and self-centered. I can tell you they’re wrong.
Born in 1996, I’m on the cusp of being both a millennial and Gen Zer. This means I vividly remember 9/11, but I didn’t have to go to a high school classroom the day after the Parkland shooting.
After graduating from college last May, I became committed to empowering the voices of my younger peers. In my work for The Civics Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit aimed at improving youth civic engagement, I train students from around the country to lead high school voter registration drives. I’ve worked with students from many backgrounds and many states to teach them how to improve voter engagement at their schools.
In their many unique experiences, I’ve noticed a common thread: Generation Z high schoolers have a political awareness and urgency that surpasses that of many millennial high schoolers just five or 10 years ago.
As Generation Z grows up and America begins to understand what they stand for, many of us Gen Yers and Gen Zers are navigating who we are in relation to them. We’ve been typecast as “lazy” and “coddled” millennials, but as Generation Z rises into their collective voice, we’re learning there is no necessary correlation between being young and being apathetic.
Today’s high school students spend school nights strategizing with their peers to organize around issues like gun violence or climate change. They use the internet to educate themselves outside their classrooms and relay this information to others via social media. When they’ve taken to improving youth voter engagement, students I’ve worked with have registered 50, 100 or even 500 of their peers in a single effort. One student group, the Future Voters Club of Compton’s Centennial High School, organized three voter registration drives within a month because of their dogged determination to have an impact.
This energy is undeniable. And soon, they’ll be able to direct that energy into the voting booth.
In the context of historically low youth voter turnout rates, this enthusiasm signals the potential for big improvements. Whereas youth turnout in the 2014 midterm elections was just 21 percent, the most recent midterm elections in 2018 saw a dramatic increase to 31 percent turnout. This far surpasses the percentages of youth voter turnout in any midterm elections within the past 25 years. As momentum builds, it’s within reason that youth registration rates and turnout will continue to achieve new highs for the 2020 election.
There’s a weight that comes with knowing that we need to solve many problems our parents didn’t confront. Yet, in the face of the issues we’ve inherited, we’ve learned how to walk out, to march, to create mass movements around hashtags and to get the world’s attention.
Now it’s time we vote at unprecedented rates.many complicated barriers youth voters face
But I’m hopeful. Because Generation Z is also my generation, and we are a generation that won’t wait for the world to change around us as top-down decisions affect our futures.
Now, with graduation season upon high school seniors around the country, I have one request. If you’re graduating this year, register to vote. There’s a high chance no one has asked you to do this yet, but the vast majority of you are now eligible. Registering takes three minutes. In most states, it can be done online. And voting will give you the opportunity to have your voice heard on issues that will impact the rest of your life. Creating meaningful change takes walking out, it takes marching, it takes social media campaigns and, importantly, it takes voting.
Congratulations Class of 2019, and thank you for your passion.
Dylan Morrissey is a youth organizer and program associate for The Civics Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the foundations of youth voter participation in high schools through education, organizing and advocacy. He is a Los Angeles-area native and a graduate of Brown University. More information about The Civics Center can be found a thecivicscenter.org.