Gen Z now has a larger civil obligation to vote than ever

Kethan Srinivasan ’21

This year, I stand alongside fifteen million other teenagers who have turned eighteen since 2016. These teenagers have one thing in common: they are living through the same dilemmas as the rest of this country and have finally come to a national reckoning. They are closed in, navigating abnormal schedules, scrolling through their “For You” page on TikTok as the days pass. Many have taken hits from job losses and pay cuts as they wait and dream of their incoming stimulus package.

     This piece is not an attack on any particular group of people because all should be well-aware of the gravity of the current circumstances. In the span from January to this day, we have witnessed a virus kill more than 200,000 people, a worldwide wave of protests against racial injustice, wildfires spanning the Pacific coast, unemployment levels hovering at the rates of 2008, and a revered woman of the gavel’s passing. And all of this culminates in one of the most contentious election years to date. 

     There is one thing you can safely say about America’s youth: we are not a traditionally active group of voters. For many decades, the country’s elder population, the largest living generation of voters, has dominated American politics. Older people are overrepresented at the federal level, making up a majority of recent presidents and much of Congress since the 1990s. 

Students march toward City Hall during the Youth for Black Lives March, August 2, 2020 – Quinn Luong ’22

     The year of the young now looms over this generation as they take their last stand. A recent report by the Brookings Institute has revealed that more than half of Americans are of the millennial generation or younger. The institute revealed the data findings which concluded that the combined millennials, Generation Z, and those younger make up more than half of the overall population at 50.7%.  Combine this with a recent Harvard Youth Poll, which asked young voters between 18-29 years old whether they would be “definitely voting” in 2020. Nearly 63% of those individuals answered with that response compared to 47% 4 years ago. This demographic shift has its effects in various other areas, including racial and ethnic profiles, current economic backdrops, difference in social issues, and a greater coalescence as a result of increased racial awareness and activism in the face of racial injustice cases. 

     This generation has built itself a platform in online and offline spheres. We have marched through streets, occupied millions of “For You” pages, and have managed to influence figures of different kinds to pick up the microphone on issues that plagues our minds, our safety, and our pockets. But the question lingers: can this influence be guaranteed where it matters the most? Are Gen Z and millennial individuals capable of doing everything in their power to shape America’s political apparatus? 

     As it stands, our younger generations in this country comprise 40% of the national electorate this year. However, our turnout rate has been our greatest downfall for many years. Over the past decade, our age group consistently turned out below the national average, whilst many view this age group’s potential as limited due to varied political beliefs in a system dominated by two-party choices. Still, young people represent a racially diverse population spread over many states. They’ve shown a growing disapproval of specific leaders across party lines, increased support for social issues and movements, including Medicare For All and Black Lives Matter.

Our potential legacy will only prove effective if we are willing to voice our sentiments on the ballot.

     Our potential legacy will only prove effective if we are willing to voice our sentiments on the ballot. My point is not to dissuade individuals from one specific side of the spectrum. It is to emphasize that, with the knowledge, understanding, and activism we now carry, we have a crucial civic obligation to vote. 

     I am not one to lecture on which party holds the moral high ground because that is no easier of a conversation. It only takes one look outward to recognize the millions of young men and women armed with their phones, voting cards, and black pens, and I encourage you to register to vote by October 19th.  

     2020 is the year of the youth. And America awaits our voice.