Baltimore, MD — For young activists, there's a lot at stake in the 2020 election.
Young voters passionate about pressing issues like climate change, women's reproductive rights, immigration and gun control are looking for a leader who will put their concerns first.
To succeed in 2020, presidential candidates will have to connect with Millennials and Gen Z. Young voters played a key role in the 2018 midterm election with 31 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voting, according to data from CIRCLE, a Tufts University center that studies youth civic engagement.
YR Media talked to five young activists about what they care about and what they are looking for in the next president.
When Sara Mora was a toddler, she says she immigrated illegally with her parents from Costa Rica. She grew up in New Jersey and as a teenaged undocumented immigrant, she joined Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). At 17, she realized that her identity as an undocumented person gave her leverage to have a voice and make a difference.
“I’m looking for leadership that has experience and has a testimony. If they say that they are going to change the school system, they better have some damn experience in their resumes about education.” As an undocumented activist and influencer, Mora sees herself as a rare breed. “There are not too many,” she said. “I’m aiming to create space for generations to come.”
Before Luis Hernandez, 17, knew the term “activism,” he was already vigorously planning to bring about social change. At age 16, he co-founded and is now executive director of Youth Over Guns, a group that was organized by students of color shortly after the Parkland shooting, which advocates for gun violence reform. The Bronx high school senior is advocating for criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention and transforming political systems to make them “inclusive of the people they claim to represent.”
“I’m looking for a president who will unequivocally fight for justice for all. One that will hear the needs of everyday people and transform those needs into policies that will fulfill them. A president that will reclaim our democracy and lead the nation forward.”
For Tatiana Washington, gun violence is personal. In 2017, Washington says her aunt was shot and killed by her husband, who then turned the gun on himself. The 18-year-old, a freshman at Trinity Washington University, is the executive director of 50 Miles More, a youth organization that advocates for lawmakers to take action to stop gun violence. She is also an executive council member of Team Enough, a group that mobilizes young people to fight against gun violence.
“I’m passionate about gun violence prevention and addressing the root causes of violence,” she said. “It’s important (for the next president) to work on issues that aren’t typically considered gun violence prevention, like criminal justice reform, police violence, and equitable schools.”
The next president, she says, “must be a champion of gun violence prevention. They need to declare it a public health issue, which is what it is.”
Anusha Chinthalapale is passionate about racial and gender equity, which led her to become one of the regional coordinators for the Washington DC area Women’s March and now the co-president of their youth sub-division. A freshman at George Washington University, Chinthalapale carries student loan debt that weighs heavily on her mind after already racking up thousands of dollars in her first year of college.
"I want a president to embody the idea of inclusion and that means making education acceptable for people regardless of race, gender or economic class," she said.
In sixth grade, Katie Eder, now 19, read Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth.” That was the first time she says she grappled with an issue that felt larger than life. She was first involved with the March For Our Lives rally, a student-led demonstration for gun violence reform that took place in 2018. Now, her full-time job is the executive director with Future Coalition. She's living in Los Angeles as she takes two years off between high school and college.
More than ever, she says, it’s essential that young people vote. “I would want a president that understands young people, our wants, our needs and puts that before money and power,” she said. “There’s a tendency to make young people feel small and that their voice doesn’t matter. We have to stand up for our generation and the generations to come to see the solutions that we want and the people in power that we want.”
This story was originally published on October 30, 2019.