In these last couple months, we have seen the question just about everywhere: “Are you registered to vote?”
It’s been circulated through social media posts, email campaigns and text message alerts. It’s been packaged as the latest trend by entertainers, activists and influencers. It’s been used as the basis of reunion clips for iconic TV shows, films and musicals—from Friends to Parks and Rec to Hamilton to Mean Girls to The West Wing.
The directive is an important one. Our voices matter in this upcoming election, but why do we need so much encouragement to put the freedom of democracy into action? With all the racial injustices, public health crises and economic turbulence our nation has weathered this year, it feels more urgent than ever to make our convictions heard. But if we weren’t incentivized by Instagram advertisements or celebrity endorsements, would we think to cast our votes in the first place?
Based on data from previous election cycles, the answer is—well, not so much. In 2016, less than half of Americans, ages 18–29, voted in the presidential election, The New York Times reported. This is more than a 15-point turnout gap between young voters and our older counterparts. However, the Pew Research Center indicates that both Millennial and Gen Z demographics account for one-third of all eligible 2020 voters. So the takeaway: We’re in a unique position to make history with this election.
Our generation tends to walk a curious line between wanting to be politically informed and socially active, while assuming that our presence carries no serious clout at the polls. Many of us know the issues and educate ourselves on the policies. We often have intense feelings about the candidates too. An increasing number of us stand for justice and equity which compels us to believe this nation can become more unified and less polarized on our watch. Overall, we care—but will we vote?
Nonpartisan outreach programs such as When We All Vote, Rock the Vote and I Am a Voter exist to make sure that we do. These resources empower young Americans to understand this civic responsibility we must not take for granted. Each website has streamlined the process of voter registration, so with just a few clicks, anyone can exercise the right to participate in local, state and federal elections.
In this digital era, it’s quick, easy and accessible to ensure our voices are heard, so we need to take that privilege seriously. Our voter turnout could not only determine the outcome of this presidential race—it could also impact our goals, dreams and hopes for the future. This mantle is larger than any one of us. It requires each of us.
If we want a nation that upholds the freedom of all humanity, we need to vote. If we aspire to a fair and equal democratic system, we need to vote. If we care about our neighbors, no matter their racial or ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, sexual orientations or gender identities, we need to vote. If we desire to welcome the immigrant and protect the asylum seeker, we need to vote. If we envision a society our children will be proud to inherit, we need to vote.
Our generation has the power to influence—and even change—the political face of these United States. Young leaders such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lauren Underwood, Pete Buttigieg, Haley Stevens, Michael Tubbs, Svante Myrick, Dan Crenshaw and Elise Stefanik are part of a seismic “youthquake” to revitalize government on both sides of the aisle. And we can also make a difference when we mail our ballots or stand in line at the polls. We can drive progress in our communities and at the Capitol. We can push for a tomorrow that feels brighter than today.
But first, we vote.