Stay Woke: From #EndSARS to #Election2020 Issues, We’re Figuring It Out

Stay Woke: From #EndSARS to #Election2020 Issues, We’re Figuring It Out (Photo courtesy of Dometi Pongo)

Adult ISH co-hosts Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner give the mic to their guests who highlight important social justice issues of 2020. MTV News’ Dometi Pongo speaks to the End SARS movement, shares the best ways to stay media literate and gushes with Nyge on their latest hip-hop earworms. Merk leads a roundtable with POPSUGAR’s Kelsey Garcia that features reporters on YR Media and WNYC’s Radio Rookies election project, 18-to-29 Now: Young America Speaks Up, where young adults bring focus to issues they care about, rather than the candidates. Be sure to follow all our socials @yrAdultISH.

Episode Transcript

Dometi: What’s up y’all, it’s Dometi Pongo from MTV’s “True Life Crime,” and you are listening to Adult ISH from YR Media and Radiotopia.

(music plays)

Merk: Nyge, in light of today’s episode theme, which we’re gonna get into soon, what was your high school make up like? 

Nyge: Just like a nice solid foundation that matched my skin tone. A little highlighter, a little Killawatt, Trophy Wife popping off.

Merk: Little bit of blush?

Nyge: I like to stay with the Fenty … Nah, I think I understand what you’re talking about. You’re talking about ethnicity wise?

Merk: Yeah. 

Nyge: So it was, pretty much, 95-percent Latinx, mostly Mexican and El Salvadorian. There were about 15 black people and some mixed race kids. 

Merk: So bringing the theme back, if someone said the word “woke,” how do you think people would’ve people responded?

Nyge: If somebody said the word “woke” at my school, it probably would have been, like, in a joking, mocking kind of way. It would’ve been like, “Oh, Nyge so woke he ain’t never went to sleep!” Like, most of the kids who weren’t Black would say stuff like that. Then one day, I went to a BSU, which is, for people who don’t know, the Black Student Union, and they had a meeting. And this girl, Bri, was standing on one of the tables and she was talking to everybody in the BSU, so all fifteen of us. We’re in a classroom. And it’s funny because, like, a lot of us didn’t even hang out with each other. So I was like, “Huh, I didn’t know there was fifteen.” So she was just talking and it was only my first time being at the meeting, and she ended the meeting after she was telling everybody all of the statistics and things that were going on with the Black people in our school, and how we weren’t being, you know, served the way that we needed to be. She ended it with everybody collectively saying, “Stay woke.” And then that was it. And I was like, “Oh, shoot.” From that day on, that word “woke” has been, you know, it’s had a lot of power and pride for me. But when was the first time you ever heard the word woke? 

Merk: I was probably a sophomore in high school — so this is 2012, 2013 school year. 

Nyge: Around the same time.

Merk: Yeah. I think I saw it on Twitter and saw the hashtag. I didn’t really look into it, but, like your school, non-Black people were joking about it, and just throwing it out there and just not having it be in the best light. And my school, in suburban Lynnwood, Washington, was predominately white. And even though I knew it was a sensitive topic … and I’m not proud to admit this, but I’d laugh along too to fit in.

Nyge: That’s crazy because after I’d say like that moment for me “stay woke,” it became a compliment and it kind of became, like, a form of protection for the Black community where people, when we would be talking, we’d be like “Aye, stay woke.” Like, “Aye, stay safe out there because stuff is unfair.” 

Merk: Yeah. And even me just not even knowing the context that you have, you know, it makes sense because we are not the same person, but at the same time it’s like there should be that shared understanding of “Hey, this is not okay.” But I didn’t even know that.

Nyge: I think a lot of people don’t know about a whole lot of things. I’m sure there’s other things that maybe I’ve joked about or I’ve thought about that are like really serious topics to you that I just don’t know about at all. And that’s exactly why we’re doing this episode called Woke ISH. So, welcome everybody to Adult ISH produced by YR Media, a show where we unlearn and we relearn and hope to, I guess, just wake up essentially, if you’re sleeping. I’m Nyge.

Merk: And I’m Merk, and think I’m awake now? Could probably drink more tea but honestly, we all could and that’s what we’re doing today, by highlighting issues that are important to us, plus our guests, and also what we can do about it. So later on the show, we’re gonna have a roundtable in partnership with POPSUGAR that represents young adults across America because the election is comin’ up real soon — we’re gonna speak to the issues they care about.

Nyge: But right now we’re bringing on MTV News host and journalist Dometi Pongo. He’ll talk to us about media literacy, and his thoughts on today’s racial climate and how he hopes that’ll change.

Merk: Let’s do it.

[Episode Break]

Nyge: With us is Dometi Pongo — he’s a Chicago native now living in NYC, and the proud son of Ghanaian immigrants. He’s also the host of MTV’s “True Life Crime” and MTV’s pop culture show “Need to Know.” Basically, he’s someone that’s trying to put a bigger spotlight on marginalized and overlooked communities. Everybody, let’s give a warm welcome to Dometi Pongo. Thanks for being here! 

Dometi: Man, thank you for having me and what an intro! It’s great to be here for sure!

Nyge: I’m about to say something right now that should sound a little familiar to you. I mean, you might have heard this before. “Bring everything you are to everything you do,” is a mantra you’ve said to yourself daily. At least, that’s what it says in your bio on your site. And that’s obvious with you being a rapper, journalist, speaker,  MTV show host, former news anchor,and the list goes on and on. You have your hand in so many different things, but it seems like the intention behind all of these different endeavors is really the same. What’s a time this year, for you, that you really brought yourself to something you did and were really proud of? A moment that really sticks out to you?

Dometi: Damn, that’s a philosophical question. I think it might have been the “Conversations and Context” series that I did with the Smithsonian Channel. The Smithsonian’s secretary, Lonnie Bunch, who heads up the National Museum of African-American History and Culture — we had this conversation juxtaposing everything that’s happening in social movements right now, today, to things that have happened in the past. So we talked about music and the history of social justice movements through music, for example. [We] talked about Lead Belly and him being incarcerated. And, you know, it was happening right around the time … It made me think about, actually, the time when we were saying “Free Meek,” and Meek comes out and then joined the board for reform. And that conversation, “bringing everything I am to everything I’m doing,” I think that that was most present in that conversation, because, listen, I used to be a news anchor. And before, you know, it became okay to be more relaxed in the way we present, where news were on TV with facial hair, you know, all of these things, especially as a brother of color, you’re encouraged to kind of suppress elements of who you are in the name of “professionalism” or “objectivity.” But in that series, “Conversations and Context,” I got to be a music head, I got to be a nerd, and I got to be myself all at the same time. And I think that that was one of those moments for me. 

Nyge: Since you’re on the topic of music, I read up a little bit about… I know, you are a former, or current, rapper, 

Dometi: Former, former! (laughs)

Nyge: Seen a couple of freestyles on the Internet. What’s your favorite, like, album right now? What are you listening to?

Dometi: I’m rocking heavy with Freddie Gibbs “Bandana.” 

Nyge: Oh, okay!

Dometi: Yeah. And that’s a little, but I’m still rocking with it. I’m rockin heavy with Freddie Gibbs. 

Nyge: You like “Alfredo?”

Dometi: I was just about to … I’m telling you at the same time! Same time! Nyge, I’m telling you. “Alfredo” was a problem. You know, produced with [The] Alchemist. I mean, it’s just you hear him at his rap tip top. And what I love, I love conscious rap, I love hip hop rap, but I love gangsta music at the same time. He has a good mode of putting in songs like “Mathematics” or “Education” with Mos Def and Black Thought on the album like “Bandana,” but also talking about problems of selling dope and transitioning to music. And it’s just, you know, again, bringing everything he is to the art form. I'[m messing with that heavy. Then Black Thought just dropped “Strings of Thought: Vol: 3,” and I think a lot of people ain’t really talking about that, but they should. That’s a powerful project.

Nyge: I know you like that new Benny too, probably, since that’s what you’re on.

Dometi: Yeah! I’m actually looking … they can’t see this.

Nyge: Yup, yup, yup!

Merk: Oh, my gosh! Dometi’s got his phone out right now showing the album covers right now. 

Nyge: That’s really crazy, but alright, go ahead. Merk, I know you have a question.

Merk: Oh, yeah. So in regards to you just, you know, being in touch with what seems like everything, how is it that you keep up to date with what’s going on in the country of your ancestors versus the country that you call home? That’s something that I struggle with. My parents are always telling me what they see on Vietnamese news they consume, the floods happening over there and the communism that they escaped that’s still very well alive in the country. I personally feel guilty that I’m not as informed as I could be, because I’m just trying to keep up with all the news from the US. Do you struggle with that too? 

Dometi: One hundred percent. And it’s, you know, funny, man. Usually … you know when you do shows, you guys not only host shows, but you’re guest on shows too. And then you get questions, you want to have the right answer. You want to be like, “Well, one thing I do to stay abreast of international news in Ghana…” But I haven’t really found that balance one hundred percent. I do think that we’re lucky in that when there are really intense moments in history, that we have access to speakers and thinkers that we can just leverage and call and say, “Yo, I don’t know what’s going on back home.” But I don’t stress myself out about trying to maintain a connection to the day to day news of it all, because I will get overwhelmed. We did a story recently for MTV News about the campaign in SARS, and that day, just pouring through and catching up on that, I just used that day to soak up a whole lot of West African news to catch up. And then I’m going to fall off for a few weeks, and then I’ll do it again.

Merk: Just to recuperate. (laughs) Well, on that note, we do have a listener question for you. Can we cue that up?

(clip plays)

Aba: Hello, Dometi. This is Aba from Seattle. I’m one of your Ghanian sisters reppin’ it out here. In regards to the #EndSARS movement, do you think the protests in the US are effective in the #EndSARS movement, and what else do you think we could be doing? 

(clip stops)

Merk: So, before you answer Aba’s question, could you quickly break down what is going on with the #EndSARS movement? 

Dometi: Yes, yes. In Nigeria right now, there’s a police unit called SARS. It’s a Special, Anti-Robbery police force that was set up to stop robberies and kidnappings that were happening in Nigeria. It’s been around since, like, the ‘80s. I think 1984 is when it was originally founded and then resurged again in the ‘90s. And what’s happening right now, though, is they’ve been accused of being corrupt and accepting bribes from people and accused of raping people that they are supposed to protect. And they’ll target people who are driving nice cars. They’ll pull you over, you know, “Where’d you get this car from? Give us a bribe and we’ll leave you alone.” If you refuse or if you don’t have the money, they’ll either kill you, arrest you, harass you. And they’ve been known to do this. But what happened the day we ran the story was that the Nigerian army opened fire on peaceful #EndSARS protesters and, you know, killed them in mass. Not only that but closed off the area where they were so that ambulances couldn’t come and administer medical care to the people who were wounded. And to get to the question, I think, is it beneficial for us in America to protest the #EndSARS movement? I think so, because one thing Nigerians hate, Trevor Noah actually said this, and I think it’s so true. “Nigerians hate to be embarrassed,” you know? And to be on the world stage and having, you know, all of your country on display for corruption in this way, it’s a call to action and it makes the U.N. and makes human rights advocates … It makes the world say, “Hey, what’s going on right now in Nigeria?” So I think it does help and I think it helps symbolically show Africans on the continent that Black Americans care about them. I think that that’s missing. There’s such a disconnect between Black Americans and Africans all over the world, all over the diaspora. So maybe then there won’t be thumbing of the nose when West Africans hear about the Black Lives Matter movement and, “They’re in America, what are they complaining about?” You know, maybe there’ll be less of a cynicism toward that, and we’ll all … Because I mean, people of color outnumber the oppressors, yet we remain subjugated all over the world. And so that solidarity, even symbolically, would just show we do care about one another no matter where we are.

Merk: And so do you feel like everybody has this responsibility to, no matter how they identify, being in touch with cultures outside of their own? And as you mentioned earlier, all this information can be so much. How do you go about filtering it? 

Dometi: I think to be a part of this community, this human community … Like, to be a human being, you have to know what’s going on on your planet. I’ll give it a really concrete example. I know about Harry Styles, Billie Eilish…  

Merk: (laugh) Yes!

Dometi: Miley Cyrus. I know when albums are dropping and I found a way to genuinely fall in love with that music. I wouldn’t have listened to Billie before. But when I tell you that shorty can sing and those lyrics are crazy?!

Merk: And they make you cry sometimes and feel all kinds of ways! 

Nyge: You just interviewed Billie, right?

Dometi: I just interviewed Billy! And I’m researching the like … I think I fell in love with Billie at the Grammy Awards earlier this year. [I] fell in love with the music. And as I was preparing for it, I’m like, “Ah, another pop star I gotta learn about,” and I was like, “No, this is introspective. It’s thoughtful.” And I interviewed her again and I had even better questions because now I’ve lived with her music and been a fan for three or four months. And, you know, so it’s that, but then I also, like I said, we talked in detail about Benny the Butcher and Freddie Gibbs. What I want to get out there is there are very few everyday white people that do that same work. You know what I mean? It’s not even like, you know, you don’t have to work in media to do it, but just at a peripheral level, you just gotta know who Jimmy Fallon is the same you just have to kinda know who Katt Williams is. You know what I’m saying? Just kinda. And so we talk about, you know, “How do I curate information?” I curate my timeline work. Like, I follow thinkers on all angles of issues, and when I look for thinkers on the other side of the aisle, I tend to intentionally look for conservatives who stand for issues that the rest of their party doesn’t agree with. So, you know, looking up this kid named Benji [Backer], who’s a conservative who is in favor of environmental reform for climate change, And, you know, looking at conservatives who are like “Yo, I’m conservative on fiscal policy, but I see what’s going on in policing, in health care.” I follow those folks because every now and then they’ll tweet some opinions I don’t agree with, but I know they’re critical thinkers. So I can read that article and be like, “Okay, I understand why he thinks the way he does and where this logic is falling.” 

Nyge: I’ve been writing stuff down this whole interview so far. But, for now, let’s take a quick step back. In the life of Dometi, can you tell us about the conversation that you had with your pastor that led you to pursuing a career in media? I came across this doing some research on you, but it must have been hidden or I need to take some journalism tips from you because I couldn’t find that conversation anywhere. 

Dometi: The fact that you even found that, like … That’s your journalistic chops. That’s buried deep in my website. I don’t even think you can click on that link. You have to Google it specifically to find it. But, you know, before I really knew who I wanted to be in this thing and I was being a rapper and I was still figuring out who I was … I got into a lot of trouble, you know. I got into a lot of fights. I hung with different crowds. And I remember I was having this recurring dream during a time of particularly a lot of conflict. I kept having this recurring dream of seeing myself being killed. In this dream, you know, I’m bleeding out on the ground, and it’s like I’m standing over myself, looking at myself. And every time it’s a different scenario in a dream. There are different friends with me, there are different circumstances, but it kept happening and I didn’t tell anyone, not a soul about it. My mom, all of a sudden, starts going to church very heavily and seeing this pastor. My family didn’t necessarily grow up religious. I go with her to see the pastor one day at her urging. And she and I, you know, we meet with him. I’m like, “Why am I meeting with a pastor? I don’t even know this is about.” He tells her, “Leave the room.” And so he and I just have a real conversation. And then he tells me that he saw a vision and he tells me the dream that I’ve been having. I get chills. I’m like, “Okay.” You know, it’s funny. I’ve never really talked about the story on a public platform either, unless someone specifically asks, even in private, because I don’t argue about religion, because, for me, it’s like arguing that the sky is blue. You know, it’s like arguing with somebody that the sky is blue, but they’re color blind. If they see it as green, I can’t tell you anything differently. I just wanted to pause and just say I appreciate you guys for that question. And so to fast forward, he ended up giving me a prophecy about my life and what God had for me. And it wasn’t hip hop, which was like a gut punch because I’ve been rapping since I was six. This all happened at the age of 19. You know, I’m 18. I’m at my mom’s house. I’m like, “Okay, I’m about to do it.” And then you get told, “This probably ain’t what you’re gonna do for the rest of your life.” And so, you know, there was a lot of soul searching. Of course, I didn’t believe and followed my own path. And then I end up somehow in radio and then end up in journalism. And before you know it, it’s been months and years before I’ve written a verse. And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” (laughs) So that’s kind of what happened.

Merk: Speaking of the pastor, you know, you said at first you were kind of doubting him. Did you ever have a follow-up conversation with him once you did get to media and you were like, “Hey, you said it?”

Dometi: Yeah. He is my pastor. He’s, like, so funny. He’s like a prophet. You know, he’s Ghanian and he’s really stoic and everything you tell him, it seems like he knows it already. You know what I mean? So I’d be excited, “Yo, I just got a job on MTV!” He’d be like, “It is well. It is well.” Like, he knew this already. 

Nyge: Not gonna lie, sometimes, when it comes down to research, when I look up things, I’ll just take trust in what Wikipedia has to say or do a quick Google search and leave it at that. And I know how dangerous and lazy that is, but I’m also intimidated by how much info is out there. Plus, with what is out there, from what I’ve seen, there’s a huge distrust in media and it doesn’t help that certain government authorities regularly spread disinformation via tweet. So how can regular people who aren’t journalists or fact-checkers get better at sourcing factual, accurate information? 

Dometi: So the way I like to think about this is … You know how you go down the rabbit hole on the Internet and you might end up … Start off on your ex-girlfriend’s page, for example? 

Merk: (laughs)

Nyge: Never.

Dometi: Before you know, you’re on her new boyfriend’s page. Now you’re under your new boyfriend’s momma’s cousin’s page. You’re in deep. You gotta go down that same rabbit hole on these issues that matter to you. (laughs)

Merk: I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Dometi: Nyge, you ain’t poppin to it?

Nyge: No, I don’t know what you are talking about. This is foreign to me.

Dometi: Listen, you gotta go down that rabbit hole. It’s so dull. What tends to help me … Literally, that’s how I think about it. So when you read an article and it hyperlinks out to these different issues, if you go on a Wikipedia page, that’s a great place to start. I think college has really soured us on Wikipedia, but it’s actually a great resource because way at the bottom, they’ve got hyperlinks to where those sources come from those stories and you can click into those hyperlinks. So every time I read an article, I click into the hyperlink when they reference an issue. And so when they reference an issue, jump to that website. I love websites like They give you the bullet points at the top of the story. You know, so if you’re ever there, you can check it out in bullet points. If you don’t have a lot of time and you don’t want to read a think piece expose on just a specific issue, man, I’d say use that same thing we used to do to get ahead in college and just read that first paragraph, you know, jump down to the ending paragraph and then look and glance at the middle and see if this is something that you think is valuable. You know, a lot of news folks wouldn’t recommend this, but the average person doesn’t have all day to read a piece from front to back and then read the hyperlink piece from front to back. So that piece you’re reading from front to back, when you click that hyperlink, jump out to that website and make sure that the point that’s being made and the point that they’re referencing actually add up, because sometimes you will find they’ll say “As it happened in 2016.” And you’ll be like “Okay, what happened in 2016?” You click that link and you’ll find out that they misinterpreted the source that they even pulled from. And so it helps you to really double-check, fact check what you’re reading. Click those hyperlinks. And then also figure out those voices that you really believe in. You know, for those new to MTV News, definitely leverage us. Not a shameless plug. This is a very shameful, shameful plug. But, you know, look at those videos of issues that we cover and we go down that rabbit hole for you. And I basically contextualize everything I learned with a piece of my opinion on the end of it, in the last 30 seconds. 

Merk: So to everyone listening, we’re recording this interview with Dometi exactly one week before the election. Any parting words for the people before we find out what happens next week?

Dometi: Vote! Do you guys cuss in your podcast?

Merk: Do it!

Dometi: F****** vote! (laughs) That was my parting words, man. This is gonna be rough. We’re doing an election panel, a post-election panel on the day after the election. We’re calling it “Election Night Hangover,” because I remember I felt hungover after the election results last time. No matter who wins, we’re gonna be shocked by something. I know that for a fact. And so it’s gonna be me and smart folks like yourselves speaking comfortably. about the election. And so if you guys feel like unpacking it with us, head over to MTV News’ Twitter around noon the day after Election Day, and you’ll just see us unpacking and engage with us, ask questions and inform us, too. And so my parting words would be to vote and just be vigilant about the information you take in. And please vote, vote, vote. 

(music plays)

Nyge: To stay up to date with you Dometi, check out his website at and give him a follow on Twitter & Instagram @Dometi_.

[Episode Break]

Nyge: So right now I’m about to get the boot ‘cause Merk got a cool new co-host for our first segment, which is a roundtable in partnership with YR Media and POPSUGAR. So, who’s this person you’re about to replace me with, Merk?

Merk: Alright, my new podcast twin is POPSUGAR’s Trending and Viral Features Editor Kelsey Garcia! We got to talk to young people like us from across the country from YR [Media] & WNYC’s Radio Rookies election project. And that’s called “18-to-29 Now: Young America Speaks Up.” We wanted to talk about November 3 and this political moment in a way that didn’t focus on the candidates running but the issues that these young people care about. So right now, you’re gonna hear them introduce themselves and see you later Nyge. Kelsey and I will take it from there. 

Nyge: Alright. Deuces!

Sher: Hi. My name is Sher Delva. I live in Boynton Beach, Florida. Topics that I’m extremely passionate about are healthcare justice, housing inequality and racial justice as well.

Sage: Hi, my name is Sage Townsend. I’m from North Carolina, but I’m currently living in Lexington, Kentucky, and I’m really passionate about just LGBTQ rights, housing discrimination within the LGBTQ community. Also, racial inequality that we just see daily.

Erianna: Hi everyone. I’m Erianna Jiles. I am a full-time commuter student at a local state college in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m a first-generation college student and it’s hard for me to pay for college and my bills.

Kaleigh: I’m Kaleigh Cunningham. I live in Missoula, Montana, but I grew up back east in Pennsylvania. The issues that I’m most passionate about are certainly freedom of speech, criminal justice reform, environmental afflictions, as well as regulatory and economic freedom.

Juan: I’m Juan. I grew up for the first half of my life in Pennsylvania, like Kaleigh, then I moved to Stockton, California for the second half of my life, and currently I live in San Francisco. The issues that I’m passionate about are immigrant rights and LGBT issues.

Kelsey: Alright, thank you. Merk, would you like to kick us off with the first question? 

Merk: Yeah! So this one’s for everyone. We wanna know when did you first really start caring about a particular issue or politics, in general? What was your “aha” moment? 

Sher: I would say I really started to gain an interest in politics around the Obama era, in 2008. That’s when I really recognized the power of activism. I had people that were older than me, a couple years older, on the streets holding signs. It was all the, “Yes We Can” stuff. I was really invigorated by that. But Bernie Sanders is really what energized me to want to get physically involved as far as getting involved with different groups and organizations, because one of the issues I’m super passionate about is healthcare. My family members, sometimes they couldn’t pay medical bills, or we avoided going to the doctor unless it was an emergency. When I heard Bernie Sanders really tell us that healthcare should not be something that is a privilege, it should be a right, that’s when I kind of leewayed into more progressive form of getting involved in politics.

Sage: I’ll jump in. I guess my interest in politics has always been kind of prevalent growing up in a conservative small town in North Carolina. Being a minority, I think politics are something that’s kind of shoved in your face. I’ve always been kind of politically aware, but I don’t think I ever really started caring about politics and how they affected me personally and my community until when gay marriage was legalized in 2015. I remember it was middle school, and I was watching the news and it came on. That was my “aha” moment. I think, specifically with the housing issues in the LGBT community, I became very aware of and very active in whenever I became homeless myself and I realized looking for a shelter it was near impossible to find any that were catered specifically to LGBT youth.

Erianna: For me, you would think I would start caring about college affordability the moment I go to college, right? It actually wasn’t ‘til a year ago, because I was just coming back home from going to a four year university in North Dakota, and I decided I wasn’t gonna go back. That had to do with the environment itself, and also I didn’t want to take out $12,000 loans every year to cover the rest of my tuition. For me, that “aha” moment was when I came home and I got a place with four other people, and I had to start working at this gas station. I started paying rent and utilities until I really realized I have no money. (laughs)

Kaleigh: I first began campaigning I guess in 2004. I was 10 years old. All I did know was that our vice president’s daughter was part of the LGBTQ community and he didn’t support her right to get married. That was kind of my first inclination that something’s not right here. 2011 is when I actually started really being involved and not just kind of spreading the word. That was when I found out about Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party.

Juan: For the most part, I think I remember politics always being, or something about politicians being all over the place in my family. Because when we were growing up as undocumented, our lives were kind of on the balance every single sort of election cycle. I remember from a young age hearing my parents discuss, what if John McCain wins? What are his views on immigration? This was when I was in elementary school. I’ve always grown up aware of politics in the U.S. with regards to immigration, and that was sort of my leeway into the broader political sort of field.

Kelsey: So now we’d like to take a step back and share this stat about youth vote in general in 2020. According to CIRCLE [Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement] youth voter registration numbers are already higher in 21 of 27 states with recently updated data, when compared with where we were at in November 2016. That’s reassuring because it combats the stereotype that young people just aren’t engaged and don’t care or apathetic to the political process. On that note, what is at stake for young adults like yourselves in this election, and how might the outcome affect you? 

Sage: Yeah. Actually, I just turned 18 this year, so I’ll be voting for the first time in the primaries. I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, but I say LGBT community, I’m specifically transgender. Something that’s at stake for us is our very basic rights. We have people in office and people in power over us who aren’t people who share the same experiences with us. As much as we can, I believe we need people who are willing to fight for LGBTQ rights, even if they don’t necessarily understand it.

Juan: I’ll jump in next. It is almost literally what’s at stake here is my life here in the US. Again, going back to being undocumented. Trump has obviously been trying to get rid of the DACA program, and it’s gone all the way to the Supreme Court. He keeps on challenging that, and that’s my only sort of lifeline here in the US. It’s a constant threat and a constant anxiety for many people here in the US. 

Kaleigh: I think this question kind of brings about what I think the real problem here is, and that is that our leaders have too much power. I think a lot of people are overlooking the United States Senate, which is one person to flip it. Regardless of what side of the aisle you think should be in power, that is up for grabs, and that’s the next two to six years of the Senate makeup and the laws that are governing over us. 

Sher: I’ll go ahead and jump in. For me, especially when joining an organization like Democratic Socialists of America, it took a long time for me to be comfortable with the word “socialism,” because I feel like there’s so much stigma around that word. But I had to realize that I believe in a lot of these programs that people throw off as just socialism, like healthcare, education, access, and things like that. That’s been kind of hard to navigate, because I think people consider a lot of things to be very radical. Like my mom, she’s very moderate and she’s like, “Well, I’m finally getting access to Medicare. Why should everybody have access to it? Healthcare is something that you have to earn and something that you have to work hard for.” With my background, my parents are both Haitian, they’ve worked really hard to get things, and sometimes it’s hard to explain to them my belief system in those terms.

Merk: When it comes to having these kinds of conversations with friends or family and your opinions are different from theirs because they are just so drastically different from you, or they might not just have an opinion because they’ve become apathetic, how do you have those kinds of difficult conversations?

Sage: I’ll jump in here. I just recently had a conversation like this with my dad about the Black Lives Matter movement. He was very much against it, and I’ve been attending protests in Louisville. Personally, I’m very much for it. He was saying specifically how he was against the rioting and the looting, and I was trying to explain it to him in a way that he would understand. I think, that’s what it boils down to, to getting the other person to see your side, is putting them in shoes that they recognize. As an example to him, “Well, how would you feel if it was me?” He very much forwardly said, like, “I don’t know how that would feel because you’re not Black.” And I was like, “Okay. Yeah.” And so I asked him, changing the circumstance, what if it was police on trans people’s lives? What if a police officer shot me? He took a second and he was like, “Well, I would hurt the police officer.” So I stopped and explained to him “Yeah. But legally, you can’t hurt the police officer. So what are you going to do next? You’re going to hit them where it hurts.” And I think it’s all about finding ways to make it relatable to the people who can’t relate to the center situation. 

Merk: Something I guess I’ll share too. When I talk to my parents about these kinds of things, just kind of putting it into the, “What kind of future do my parents want to see for me?” I think they want to see one where I’m thriving. I think one of the most powerful things my dad said to me was when we were voting at one of our local elections. I usually help out my parents with their ballot and I said, “Okay, so how do you want to vote?” My dad said, “I want you to help me vote for your future.” I think that was a really powerful moment. Because again, I think as you were saying, Sage, it really matters when you make it personal. The thing is, politics are so personal, and there’s so many voices in our world and it’s hard to please everyone. I would hope that at the end of the day people just … love. 

Erianna: As you talk about your dad, it reminds me of my dad. My dad, completely opposite of your dad, my dad is a boomer from Mississippi. A couple years ago when we voted, my dad actually did not vote. It was like, “Dad … Dad!” You know, sometimes as a Black person it just feels like I’m just doing it for the culture because I have to and because so many people came before me, and they worked so hard to get me to be able to just walk into that building and fill out a piece of paper and walk out of there without having to answer any ridiculous questions, or making them believe that I’m smart, or whatever it was. One thing, Merk, that I can agree with, is that my parents do really invest in my future and want things to be better for me. One thing my father told me was just because he didn’t vote doesn’t mean that I don’t go vote. I feel like a lot of people can relate to my dad because he’s just one of those Americans that, one, may not have a lot of knowledge about politics. Two, he just feels like … he just gives up. There’s no good option, so why even give somebody the vote and they’re not even up to his standards or whatever it is? My conversations with my parents may not always be spot on and we may not always see things through the same light. However, I think that it’s such a beautiful thing to know that my parents support me being politically active.

Merk: Some of where these politically active conversations are happening is on social media. As overwhelming as it can be, it’s a place where many of us are organizing, especially in the midst of the pandemic where we’re not physically able to do so. How do you use social media in your life to get people involved and engaged?

Sher: Yeah, I definitely slowed down my use of social media because I realized it’s very much catered to people that think and believe in you. It’s like you’re seeing the same opinions all throughout your feed and you’re like, “Great, everybody is on the same page. This is great!” It’s not as productive, or you’re seeing people just kind of go back and forth in these arguments, and people are blocking people. Social media is a tool, it’s not all encompassing.

Sage: As embarrassing as it is, I really tend to utilize my social media, but specifically TikTok as a platform. Honestly, it can be a great tool when utilized properly to reach out to a bunch of people in a very quick manner. I have an understanding that my audience are people who are younger and coming into the age of voting and slightly older than me. I’d say 14 to 22 would be my audience range, which seems like a big gap, but I think in the spectrum of political awareness I think that’s a very similar age group.

Erianna: It just makes me think, I know social media is of the times. You know what I’m saying? That is young people’s love language is to talk through social media and stuff like that. Then sometimes I feel like social media is problematic to real change. Because we can sit up there and tweet things all day long, but which one of us is going to actually go down there and talk to some people? You know what I’m saying? This is I feel like the problem with my generation, and I hate to even say that I’m a Gen Z, I be one of those low key saying I’m a millennial. I’m just saying I’m just really, sometimes I feel like social media is not a helpful thing to change.

Kelsey: So, amid all of the challenges that we’ve talked about so far today, what does keep you pushing forward and what gives you hope? 

Kaleigh: There’s a lot of stuff that can put you down sometimes. But it’s my opinion that if you’re not fighting, then you can’t complain type of thing. So I think if you want to see a better world or have a better life, you have to do something about it. I grew up in Section Eight housing and I didn’t eat unless the food stamps came through. Today I’m 25 and I’m sitting in my own apartment. I know what can happen with hard work and a community that wants to help one another. 

Sage: One thing I think I find hope in is I like to think back to the Stonewall riots and specifically about, like, LGBTQ rights. When there’s a sense of community and something worth fighting for, there is continuity. You know, there’s a pattern that we see that there will always be people willing to fight if it’s a fight worth fighting for. 

Erianna: Just looking at politics as bigger than you and not being so focused on immediate results, which I think it’s so hard for us as young people. Sometimes you get lost in wanting things to be a little bit more quicker, because we live in such a fast-paced world. But just seeing change as that is a little bit slower helps me when I start to get really burnt out, apathetic and feeling that weight of everything, you know? 

Juan: Just being politically active nowadays as college-aged students and college-aged people, it is definitely a part of our regular lives now, because we’ve come of age in a very special time where we had a Black president, so we grew up sort of aware that this is an important political moment. We saw that, “We’re progressing, we’re moving forward.” Then to see that shattered I think motivated a lot of people. I see in our future us continuing that. I’m hoping that we continue this political dialogue.

(music plays)

Merk: To hear more about the panelists and the stories they’ve been reporting on this year, check ‘em out at And for a video version of this convo, it’s up on POPSUGAR News and linked on our site,

[Episode Break]

Nyge: So today’s top takeaway is to speak up on issues you care about with the resources you have, whatever platform you have — whether you got two followers or 15,000. Just speak, man. Somebody is gonna hear you. 

Merk: And two, diversify where you’re getting your news from. One way to do that, and something Dometi recommends, is to use an app like Feedly that lets you, in a way, create your own digital newspaper by combining stories from news outlets that interest you and from sources you trust. He also recommends an email newsletter called The Skimm that gives you bullet point headlines, in a way that one of your smart friends would give you the news. I can tell you that The Skimm has come in clutch for me and I’m gonna check Feedly out myself.

Nyge: That said, thanks everybody for listening to another episode of Adult ISH, produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation.

Merk: Thank yous go out to our producer Georgia Wright, Senior Producer Davey Kim, Executive Producer Rebecca Martin, and our sound engineer Galnadgee Joe-Johnson. You can keep up with us on all the socials @YRadultISH.

Nyge: We’re also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX. An independent listener-supported collective of some of the most informed shows in all of podcasting. Find them at

Merk: And before we go, we just wanna say that we have no idea what November 3rd is gonna look like in terms of what will happen in the election, people’s reactions, and what the next four years will be like. But we just want to say that you’re not alone and we’ll be here for you next week.

Nyge: Yeah, so until then… take care everybody. We love you and we’ll figure it out. 

Merk: We’ll figure it out. Bye.

Nyge: Bye.

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