Our generation has been called lazy, narcissistic and entitled. They say we’re armchair activists who would rather sit at home posting hashtags than put our boots on the ground or exercise our right to vote.
Sure, young voter turnout hit an all time low as recently as 2014, but new evidence suggests it would be a mistake to judge how much we care about issues, based solely on how many of us are showing up at the ballot box.
More than 6 in 10 young people aged 15-26 in California say that “direct action”—not voting—is “the most effective way to make social change," according to a survey just released by The California Endowment, a private foundation that focuses on health and equity issues.
An equal number of young people surveyed said they have volunteered time to an organization active in community change.
By comparison, only 48% of those surveyed said they were likely to vote, either now or in the future.
The survey results are based on responses from 1,000 young people in southern and central California, including Latino/a, African American, Asian Pacific Islander, LGBT and undocumented youth.
Nearly 80% of those surveyed said they are “passionately concerned with resolving racism and inequality, and are actively making positive change in their communities.”
The poll results were released in Los Angeles last week at Youth Power Fest, an event organized by The California Endowment. We went there and spoke to several of our peers about how they are going about making change in their community.
Along with other youth in her youth group, By Youth For Youth, Lopez presents informational workshops on diabetes for community members and organizes fundraising events to raise money for the program.
“We were supposed to come up with a problem in our community so we thought about nutrition, and we came up with a solution,” said Lopez, who is working to end diabetes in the Latino community of Culver City, Calif. “It’s very important for my community because a lot of us Latinos, we tend to get diabetes. It’s important to beat that and to become educated so our children won’t have to deal with that.”
One in 3 Latinos over the age of 20 are diagnosed with diabetes, Lopez’s efforts are critical within her community.
“I get people to be aware and conscious that we exist, because there are youth at Mar Vista Family Center that are the future,” said Lopez, who manages the organization’s social media accounts.”
Fong Thao, 18
As a youth organizer at the East Bay Asian Youth Center in Sacramento, Thao has spent every Saturday since April at local high schools campaigning for Measure Y, a ballot initiative that would fund summer programs, financial literacy training, arts enrichment programs, and workforce development for low-income youth by taxing marijuana cultivation.
Even though Thao is putting in the hard work now, it wasn’t always something he thought he could do— or something the adults in his life expected from him.
“I need something like this [campaign], something I can relate to,” Thao said. “Something where an adult can relate to me and we have a bond. Not a lot of adults see potential in kids like me who are failing [in school]. [But] we’re a family, we’re all equal. We’re youth, and we are the future.”
Vanessa Tahay, 16
Tahay was 10 years old when she migrated from Guatemala. With encouragement from her mother, she began writing about her experiences crossing the border and living in a different country. She now performs her writing with Get Lit - Words Ignite, a poetry program that engages at-risk youth in literature.
“It’s important for me to do this because if I don’t speak now, then who’s gonna do it?” said Tahay, who gets a rush when people come up to her after a performance to tell her that they went through a similar experience. “I want to get my story out for people to know they’re not alone… And I don’t want [my 2-year-old brother] to suffer like my parents did or like I did. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Savannah Mendoza, 19
At Brown Issues, a Sacramento-based nonprofit committed to the educational success of “Brown People everywhere,” Mendoza does advocacy work for campaigns around health care and voting.
“It’s important because you want to elect people that represent you,” said Mendoza, who uses in-person conversation and social media to get her message across. “As youth, we’re such a big demographic and it’s important that we show we’re a big voice because a lot of times as younger people we feel that we’re not taken seriously. It’s important to let our elected officials know we want their decisions to reflect us and our population.”
Gift Uzeh, 16
“I’m big on social media so, of course, I’m always on [Facebook and Instagram],” said Uzeh, who is one of the hosts on the online podcast, LAM Teen Talk. “If I see something that’s against what I stand for, I will say something because it’s not me to keep quiet. It’s my way of making sure my voice is heard.”
With over 200 followers on the LAM Teen Talk Instagram, Uzeh is making changes by spreading the word and encouraging others online.
Betty Marquez will be exploring issues of environmental racism in southeast Los Angeles and its effects on the area's residents. Having been raised in Bell, California with little access to the outdoors, she is passionate about claiming space for women of color through her hiking, backpacking, and traveling adventures. She is currently a teaching assistant at an elementary school where she interacts with brilliant first graders on a daily basis. Betty holds a degree in feminist studies from UC Santa Barbara.
Tyree Boyd-Pates is a man on a mission! As a writer, Tyree expounds on Black culture from a millennial vantage and mobilizes communities of color through journalism, social media and education. A resident of Compton, California, Tyree graduated from Temple University with a master’s degree in pan-African studies and is an alumnus of California State University, Bakersfield, where he received his bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in African American studies. While at Temple he founded The Corner, an hour-long radio show that explored the intersections of Black culture, faith and politics, and he was once invited by the White House to cover President Obama in New York City. The health topics he is interested in reporting on as a fellow are environmental pollution, neighborhood violence, inadequate access to healthy foods and decent housing, and community-police relations.