How old do you have to be to work for change in your community?
This question crosses our minds as we watch older leaders push outdated policies and dismiss our voices—in part, because we are young. But, time and time again, our country has been propelled towards progress inspired by young activism. That is why we formed the Georgia Chapter of Voters of Tomorrow, a student-led organization in rural Georgia, dedicated to promoting civic engagement in our generation. Our goal is not to promote any political party but to equip students across Georgia with the tools and knowledge they need to make their voices heard.
One of the most crucial steps is getting young voters to turn out for local, state, and federal elections. Voting is one of our most powerful tools for effecting change. We can pick our leaders and policy-makers and send a message to politicians across the country that their jobs depend on addressing our concerns. But low voter turnout continues to plague our generation. Eighty percent of our peers say they are interested in politics, yet less than half of them turn out to vote. The problem isn’t apathy, but a loss of faith in our political system.
“I strongly dislike the two-party system. I don’t align well with either party, and I don’t think my viewpoint is well represented when voting is boiled down to two choices,” said Gabe, a 22-year-old resident of Georgia. His thinking is understandable, but the problem is that by sitting out elections, we surrender the little control we have over the political process. Our generation achieves far better outcomes when we play ball.
At Voters of Tomorrow, we emphasize the importance of voting in every election, not just for the president. Decisions about our future are made at all levels of the government. Neglecting down-ballot races—like for secretary of state or the Public Service Commission—is to neglect an opportunity for change. In 2022, for example, Stacey Abrams is running against incumbent Brian Kemp, and turnout from young people could make the difference. We provide easy-to-read guides on every position on the ballot and highlight key policy issues that are at stake.
We’re also working to expand access to the polls for young voters. We mobilize across the state to provide resources to inexperienced voters and to address the logistical barriers that frequently trip them up such as lack of transportation and online misinformation. We work with local organizations to distribute voting guides that walk voters through the steps of the voting process and clear up common areas of confusion. We emphasize early voting and absentee voting, which provide flexibility for students with busy schedules. Lastly, we work with college administrations to provide students time off to vote and organize transportation to polling places that are intentionally located far from the campus. Democracy doesn’t work unless every eligible voter is able to express their desires at the ballot box uninhibited.
We must not neglect our other power to affect change: our voices. It’s important for all of us to call attention to the issues that matter to us and urge others to stand alongside us. Youth mobilization can drive social and economic policy, especially when we speak collectively. A key focus of our organization is showing others how to make their voices heard: how to write petitions, organize marches to protest banning books in Texas, and call for action against climate change by investing in clean energy. We also run trainings for students to learn how to have difficult conversations with friends and family in order to find common ground. In the battle for hearts and minds, being able to effectively hold hard conversations is crucial. If we remain silent, we give up any right to control what type of future we will inherit.