Young People Have Power. Let’s Use It.
When Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) was sworn into office on January 15, 2021, he immediately signed an executive order banning the teaching of “divisive concepts,” including Critical Race Theory (CRT), an academic practice developed by legal scholars to examine the ongoing effects of racism in American policies and institutions. Although CRT was never even in the state’s public-school curriculum, it became a key component of Youngkin’s campaign for governor, and he wasted no time taking action once he was elected. As quickly as he moved to ban CRT, Gen-Z moved just as fast to get in his way.
Just a couple weeks after signing his executive order, Youngkin told conservative radio host John Fredericks that parents could email the state government to report public school teachers they believed to be “behaving objectionably,” essentially creating a tip-line for parents to snitch on teachers.
At Gen-Z for Change, we immediately stepped in to block Youngkin’s efforts by developing a website for people to sabotage the line with false tips. To date, the tool has sent over 100,000 emails clogging up Youngkin’s tip line. In fact, the governor’s team is now hiding the submissions from the public and blocking Freedom of Information Act requests from several media outlets that want to report on these so-called tips. Our efforts at Gen-Z for Change did not go unnoticed here. Conservatives claim that their attempts to whitewash history are meant to protect young people, but our false tip line campaign aimed to serve as a counterweight and we’re just getting started.
Launched in 2020 as TikTok for Biden, Gen-Z for Change originally banded its members together to help end the reign of Donald Trump. Since then, we have rebranded as Gen-Z for Change in order to broaden our efforts and, as a result, have become a leading organization in the progressive space because we actually make change. Our coalition of over 500 creators and activists, collectively, boasts upward of 500 million followers — a figure that far exceeds the average monthly viewership of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC combined.
With this immense reach comes great responsibility and we strive to use our network for good. Not only did we mobilize our audience to help flood Youngkin’s anti-CRT tip line, but we took those same efforts to Texas to bombard an anti-abortion whistleblower tip line with false tips. Through an online petition, we collected more than 150,000 signatures to save the life of an Afghan man and his family targeted by the Taliban. We helped drive hundreds of calls to members of Congress in support of the Build Back Better Act. We worked with the White House to debunk misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines, and even participated in a virtual town hall with Dr. Fauci. And when companies like Starbucks, Ralph’s and Kellogg’s tried to fill positions left open because they fired unionizing workers, we spammed their job postings, submitting fake applications.
By utilizing TikTok, Instagram and Twitter as our main platforms, Gen-Z for Change has shown that digital organizing is organizing. With the tap of a finger, we have mobilized our audience and used our power for good when it comes to reproductive rights, workers’ rights, climate justice and more. Now it’s time to use this power to secure our fundamental right to vote and engage our generation in one of the most vital tools for change – the democratic process.
Historically, young people ages 18-29 have voted at lower rates than adults, but that may start to change. The 2020 presidential election was likely one of the highest rates of youth electoral participation since the voting age was lowered to 18, even in the face of a deadly pandemic. According to CIRCLE at Tufts, 50% of young people cast their ballot in the 2020 presidential election, and we want this pattern to continue because young people could determine future election outcomes from down ballot races to Congress.
When America saw young people use their voices in the name of democracy, Republican politicians felt threatened. In efforts to stay in power, they introduced more than 440 bills restricting the right to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Most notably, we saw the Texas Legislature pass Senate Bill 1, a sweeping voter suppression bill that directly attacks American democratic values and principles that have been in place for over 200 years. In September, Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed this egregious bill into law, codifying numerous voting restrictions, including tightening ID requirements for mail-in voting, banning drive-thru and overnight early voting, empowering partisan poll watchers and more.
There’s no doubt that the hundreds of voter suppression bills are motivated by false and often racist allegations about voter fraud. We must ensure that all American voices are heard, especially from Black and brown voters, youth voters and voters with disabilities, all of whom are disproportionately impacted by these laws.
Millions of Americans have urged Congress to pass voting rights legislation and enact national standards to protect our democracy. These bills included the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. Each bill passed the House, but the issue lies within the Senate. The American people’s right to vote has been obstructed by Republicans and two Senate Democrats: Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
As November inches closer, the midterm elections will be the center of attention, and it’s important to remember that young people have power. We’ve used it to flood tip lines and collect hundreds of thousands of signatures, and we’re not afraid to use that same digital organizing power to turn out young voters in November. At Gen-Z for Change, we’re already focusing our efforts on voter education and advocacy, using our wide range of skills – from coding to graphic design – to build innovative websites and resource hubs both for current voters as well as for those who are too young to vote, but still want to make their voices heard beyond the voting booth.
Far too many of us feel that our voices are not being heard on issues that will not only affect our futures, but also generations to come. As we look at our government, and those who represent us, we don’t often see those in power enacting the change we know our future needs. By mobilizing our generation and turning out young people, we can elect leaders who not only understand the issues we’re facing, but who will work to fix them.
By empowering our fellow members of Gen-Z to become civically involved and exercise their right to vote, we hope to create young leaders who will drive change for generations to come. Young people have power and we will show it.
Sam Schmir, a recent graduate from Southern New Hampshire University, currently serves as the Digital Development Coordinator at Gen-Z for Change.