Young People Stake Their Claim to the Future. Starting Now.
By Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez
The midterm elections may be in the rearview mirror, but young people aren’t getting off the road.
Propelled by a passion to sustain the environment, preserve democratic rights, and advance racial and economic justice, young people turned out in record numbers for the past three elections. But we know we can’t stop there.
The Youth Agenda 2023, which was unveiled at the National Mall last month, calls on President Biden and legislators at every level of government to prioritize the values that brought young people out to vote and to enact the policies that will make them a reality.
We want to live in a country where we’re able to make our own health care choices about having children; where people of every race, gender, and background have access to quality educational and economic opportunity; where we can all feel safe and valued; where our lives are worth more than access to unregulated assault weapons, and our livelihoods are worth more than unregulated corporate profiteering; where our friends who came here as immigrant children have a path to citizenship; where every citizen is encouraged to cast a vote and have it count. And when it comes to addressing climate change, the world itself is truly at stake, demanding us all to take action.
As the president of NextGen America, the largest organization in the U.S. specifically engaging young voters, I’ve learned that the power of those principles is what drives young voters to the polls. In 2022, this country had the second-largest midterm youth turnout on record, with 27% of voters ages 18–29 casting a ballot.
In the seven battleground states where NextGen worked, we registered new young voters on 245 campuses and made over 24.5 million calls and texts. And in the Arizona Senate race, for example, where progressive Democrat Mark Kelly won by a slim margin, youth ages 18–29 preferred Kelly by 76%. For the Governor’s race, young voters preferred Democrat Katie Hobbs by 71%. As in other key states, the youth vote in Arizona defied expectations, proving decisive in these victories.
But it’s what happens between elections that brings concrete policy changes that improve everyday lives. In the wake of the midterm elections, NextGen America reached out to millions of young people — thereby creating this Agenda from what they told us and our partner organizations in surveys, polls, and out in the field.
The Youth Agenda includes specific legislative policies for the top ten areas in which young people want to see transformative change:
§ Climate Change and Environmental Justice
§ Student Debt Cancellation & Access to Education
§ Economic Justice
§ Abortion Rights & Reproductive Justice
§ Criminal Justice and Police Reform
§ LGBTQ+ Rights
§ Gun Violence Prevention
§ Comprehensive Immigration Reform
§ Defending Democracy
§ Youth Representation
We have been blown away by the care and willpower we encounter day by day, month after month. That commitment has already yielded some significant policy wins on issues like student debt, funding to address climate change, and the first gun legislation in years. Young people are determined not to go backwards, but to build on those modest gains with a bold vision and bold action.
And on issues like the climate crisis and gun safety, we have no time to lose. These challenges are not unsolvable; they are crises that we humans have created, and they require our active engagement and innovation to solve. It’s not just about passing the laws, it’s about how our government works, and for whom.
As the most diverse generation in American history, with a progressive and ambitious vision, young people want to make sure that includes us. We’re not putting our hopes on any one politician or party. Rather, we’ll be trusting our own ability to stay engaged for the long haul, find allies across generations, and inspire those coming up behind us to make this journey with us.
Together we can get this done and create a country that respects us, reflects us, and represents us all.
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is the president and executive director of NextGen America.