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Gen Z organizes efforts to get out the vote


“Even though I wasn’t a voter, I got the sticker.  I wrote the time on it.  I wrote the date.  I wrote what I was feeling.  I was like ‘my mom just voted for the first female president of the United States,” reminisced Sophia Woodrow, 18, of watching her mom vote in the 2016 election.  “And then that night — it was just the disappointment and the loss I felt.  That opportunity being stolen away is really what motivated me to get involved in politics.”  

Woodrow is a student organizer and staff member at MarchOn — an organization run by youth, for youth rooted in bringing people together for political advancements that members of Gen Z and Millennials want to see in their communities and in the world.  In connection with Future Coalition, a youth organization focused on bringing about change, especially for the safety of the environment, they hosted a #VoteWithUs campaign. 

The campaign’s goal was to encourage people to be a part of something bigger than just turning in their single ballot — to be civically engaged with them at a time when people have had to be apart due to the coronavirus pandemic.  They had a virtual rally where youth activists like Emma Gonzalez and Jackie Corin spoke.  Chelsea Handler, among other celebrities and influencers, also made appearances.  In addition, they hosted socially distanced in-person events including a Bus Tour visiting nine states in the weeks leading up to the election.

MarchOn organizers for the #VoteWithUs campaign stand in front of their tour bus in Atlanta, GA
MarchOn organizers for the #VoteWithUs campaign stand in front of their tour bus in Atlanta, GA

The bus tour stopped in various cities to register people to vote, help early voters perform their civic duty, and to fight against voter suppression and intimidation.  

This is “part of the reasons that the Voter Protection Corps was founded.  MarchOn started the Voter Protection Corps to help protect the vote and to make sure that everyone was getting out there and had the ability to vote in a timely fashion and [whichever] method was easiest for them,” explained Woodrow from outside the tour bus at the last stop in Atlanta.  “We see a lot of voter suppression here in Georgia, specifically we see the purging of voter rolls, we see long lines, [and] we see machines that don’t work.”

Votewith.US also featured local rallies, like Walk to the Ballot Box Parades, so that young people and communities of color across the country could find out about civic engagement events happening near them. 

#WalktheVote is another organization that spanned across 11 states and 46 cities, hosting parades to ballot drop-off  boxes for communities to get together to celebrate voting in the election.  Jaz Martus, a student at Michigan State University, helped organize a local rally and assisted with national efforts. 

Jaz Martus, #WalkTheVote student organizer and others snap a selfie at their walk-to-the-polls event
Jaz Martus, #WalkTheVote student organizer and others snap a selfie at their walk-to-the-polls event

“I truly believe that American democracy — the institutions that we value and the beliefs that we share are all on the ballot tomorrow.  Every four years or two years…politicians will come in and say ’this is the most important election,’ and then they come back again and say it again and again and again,” explained Martus. 

“But when you look at what is at stake, it is incontrovertible because there is no longer a consensus in America…that we have certain values: dignity [and] respect.  [Election Day] is a referendum on the values, the ideas that we hold not just as Americans but as decent human beings.”   

The efforts of young people organizing their peers and adults to vote in the election had an impact.  According to the CIRCLE research center at Tufts University, approximately 10 million young people voted in this election, which is a higher turnout when compared to the 2016 presidential election.  

From all of their work, it’s clear Gen Z will continue to be civically engaged in the time to come.

“I think at the most fundamental level, I am voting to decide who we are as a country  and where we will go from here,” affirmed Martus.

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