In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, 13 young people from across the nation set out to document our lives during one of the most politically charged eras in recent history.
While meeting virtually over the course of 10 months, our team members — of different genders, backgrounds, ethnicities and political views — documented our communities and shared our perspectives.
We interviewed our families, friends and neighbors and reported on how the political climate impacted where we live. For some of us, our political beliefs were amplified through the experience. For others, they transformed altogether.
We heard from William Carter, a Republican who was grappling with the GOP establishment’s inability to relinquish power and let young Republican voices be heard. We also heard from Juan Mireles-Palomar, an undocumented youth anxiously living in limbo after Trump’s rhetoric threatened DACA, and from Kaleigh Cunningham, a third party voter fed up with the two-party system altogether. But the project expanded far beyond electoral politics. From virtual graduations to struggling to choose the best college to attend during a global health crisis, each story illuminated an on-the-ground view of young adults seeking stability while enduring months of continuous uncertainty. Ultimately, we shared the hope for change to come as the election approached.
In the end, the election revealed young voters have a huge impact. Millennials and Gen Z make up 37 percent of the eligible voting population — and our presence was felt in the 2020 election. Fifty-two to 55 percent of youth voted in the 2020 election, according to CIRCLE, and impacted results in many key battleground states, helping Joe Biden secure the presidency. Still, numbers only tell so much. To gain deeper insight, 18-to-29 Now teamed up with 18by.vote — an organization that aims to help teenagers understand the voting process — to host a town hall and find out how young people really feel about their political influence.
The event, led by me, Sher Delva, and Jazmin Kay, resulted in conversations that were both unexpected and insightful. Here are some excerpts from the conversation, edited for length and clarity, that highlight different perspectives:
On climate change:
“If I had it my way, the Republican Party would be dealing with climate change — and I want them to. But the problem is they’re just stuck in their old ways. And I think college students, and young people in general, are going to become the major voting block. If they didn't in this election, then certainly the next election.
And when it comes to those issues, eventually we're going to have people take office, whether as a Republican or as a Democrat, that would be more — in my hope — moderate. Not so far to the right and so far to the left. If we can do something like that, I feel like we’ll actually get the changes that we want.” – William Carter, 23
On the importance of representation:
“Representation obviously is vital in times like this. [One of my friends] did not choose to vote. He was just like, ‘I don't relate to them. I don't relate to these two white candidates.’ And I know a lot of people in the Black community feel more represented with Kamala there. Just simply just because she’s a woman of color. I think that a lot of people don’t feel connected to these people that are running. And that’s kind of why a lot of people don't vote … I don’t think that we’re ever going to have the correct person or the person who is going to be the most perfect. But I do think representation matters.” – Erianna Jiles, 22
On encouraging voting:
“When it got to the point that Biden was obviously going to be the candidate, I think people started feeling really defeated and talking about how Biden sucks and just being overall negative about it. I tried to get out of that mindset a little because even though he's not necessarily our top choice, it was really important to me that we were still finding a way to stay positive. Because if you’re not staying positive, you’re going to be less likely to go to the polls when election day comes. You’re not going to be able to empower other people to vote as much. So even if you plan to vote and you’re going around complaining about the candidates that you’re voting for, it's not as realistic to expect people to buy into your message of: Go vote at the polls.” – Dora Segall, 22
On the role of the media:
“I have a really hard time sometimes because sometimes I hear about things in social media that aren’t reported in mainstream media. I learn more through Instagram about the Black Lives Matter movement than I do in mainstream media. But then if I go down certain Twitter and Instagram holes, I’m not going to learn something. So, it’s like, sometimes I feel like the media do not necessarily always represent things that are going on or they’re left-leaning or right-leaning.” – Laura Bratton, 23
“I wish that the media did a better job of just uplifting the narratives of American voters who aren’t considered to be authorities or experts, but are the ones who are in the polling place.” – Dora Segall, 22
On the ‘Latinx vote’:
“What I saw a lot in the pieces that I put out was definitely this amalgamation of how everything that’s being talked about by politicians is so much more than just talking points — it may be that for them, but for people who actually have to go out and vote, it's something that affects us, these different issues.
I was covering a lot of the Latinx voting block, but that’s such a huge misnomer. How do you really group up the entire ‘Hispanic vote?’
I think we all know that the younger generation … is not oblivious. We know what we’re talking about. We know what these issues are, but we seem to never really be taken into account. That’s especially true with the Latinx vote. Every Latinx vote is vastly different but no one is trying to reach directly to us. That’s an issue that we’re seeing is how this political process is excluding a lot of people.” – Antonio Villaseñor-Baca, 24