The Kids Are Alright

Like a lot of you, I was fascinated by the goings-on in the Tennessee state house last week:  Two young Black men stood up for what is right, willing to sacrifice their seats of power, and then their triumphant reinstatement this week. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson are the surface indicators of a sea change currently underway in American politics.

During the 2022 election season I wrote a few posts tracking voter registration and early vote trends among young people. Motivated by the horrific Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade, large numbers of young people not only registered to vote, but also showed up to vote. And where they showed up, they played a major role in winning elections for the Democrats.

You can see that same pattern repeating itself in the recent Wisconsin judicial election. Tuesday’s Washington Post had a great story illustrating what organizing and message reinforcement can do:

When students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison entered one of the lecture halls in the George L. Mosse Humanities Building last Tuesday, they found small pieces of paper on the seats, one final reminder note in an elaborate organizing effort that produced a record turnout on campuses in a state Supreme Court election likely to end the state’s ban on abortion.

One side of the paper urged students to vote for liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, the eventual victor against conservative former justice Daniel Kelly. But it was the other side that underscored the attention to detail and the lengths to which organizers had gone to assure the biggest campus turnout possible.

The back side read, “Where do I vote TODAY?” and broke down the polling places dormitory by dormitory, along with instructions on the kinds of identification to bring with them, and reminded them that they could register and vote at the same time. Similar instructions were distributed at other campuses across the state.

And that level of detail paid off with respect to turnout:

And young people aren’t just interested in voting—the actions of the Republicans in the Tennessee legislation have had an immediate effect:

The reactionary turn underway in many red states is beginning to shape a new generation of young Democratic officials, many of whom will one day be the party’s leaders.

In these red states, young Democrats are entering local politics and developing public presences in response to the far-right culture-warring unleashed by GOP majorities. New restrictions on abortion and the growing right-wing backlash to LGBTQ rights are radicalizing a wave of Democratic public servants who mostly hail from the Gen Z and millennial generations.

“We’re seeing this across the country,” said Amanda Litman, a co-founder of Run For Something, which recruits progressive candidates for state and local office. “It’s no coincidence that some of the loudest voices pushing back are young leaders in red states, often from urban environments, often people of color, often LGBTQ themselves.”

Last week, after the GOP-controlled state legislature in Tennessee expelled two young Black lawmakers for protesting gun violence, and after a Texas judge invalidated federal approval of abortion medication, Run For Something’s candidate recruitment spiked. Litman says more than half the new candidates are from red states.

This is incredibly hopeful news. Let’s hope it continues. The Who can take it from here:

One thought on “The Kids Are Alright

  1. This started in 2018, when many in the media were ignoring the signs and lamenting lack of young voter participation. The turnout tied a record for 18-29 year old voters in a midterm. It is incredibly hopeful to see it continue.

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