Most days it feels like the deck is stacked against young people—rising rent and evictions, a worsening climate crisis, loved ones being deported and denied citizenship, and insurmountable student debt. And while young people are trying to survive in a system that has neglected them for decades, President Joe Biden and Democratic leadership are caving to Senator Joe Manchin, a coal baron from West Virginia who profits off poisoning our communities, and racist, undemocratic Senate rules—all at the expense of young people and our futures. The time for bold, progressive change is now, and if Democrats don’t deliver, young people will elect new leaders in 2022 and 2024 who will.
When we mobilized young people to the polls last year, we handed Democrats everything they needed: a governing majority and a popular mandate. We risked our lives to knock on doors through a pandemic. We agitated, organized, and convinced our communities, who were skeptical because they have been let down time and time again by the Democratic Party, to vote for Biden and Democrats across the country. Young people trusted Democrats to really get things done. Yet, not even a full year into his presidency, Biden and congressional Democrats are failing to follow through on their campaign promises because of the Jim Crow filibuster, an unelected parliamentarian, and corporate Democrats like Joe Manchin.
This reconciliation package, the Build Back Better plan, symbolizes more than the legislative prowess of the Democratic Party. A reconciliation package that includes a pathway to citizenship and bold investments to communities on the frontline of the climate crisis symbolizes that the Democratic Party actually gives a damn about our communities and our futures. Futures where we don’t have to fear that our loved ones will be taken from us in the middle of the night by a brutal deportation force. Futures where we don’t have to flee our homes due to deadly storms or other natural disasters. Futures where we don’t have to take it day by day, but can thrive and prosper.
This past November’s off-year elections should be a warning to Democrats in office: Young people won’t mobilize for politicians that uphold a broken status quo. They’ll mobilize instead for bold leaders who aren’t afraid to challenge institutional power structures to deliver real, material change. Democrats cannot ignore our demands in office and then ask us for our votes come Election Day. We are not a bottomless well of support that can be siphoned for votes every two to four years.
The urgency of now cannot be understated: the shrinking window of a full Democratic majority, the code red from climate scientists around the world, a seemingly never-ending pandemic, and the rise of deportations and detentions with reports of inhumane conditions at detention centers across the country. It’s because of this that our generations feel the urgency to fight for the changes that we need to secure a future where we can all live and thrive. From protests to bird-dogging, to hunger strikes, we’re mobilizing and agitating because the stakes couldn’t be higher for our generation and future generations to come.
The legislative decisions that Democrats make in the coming weeks will galvanize our generations. The outcomes of those decisions, however, will determine whether we’re galvanized for or against them. Will Biden cater to the interests of Joe Manchin, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, and other corporate Democrats who refuse to listen to their constituents and obstruct his popular agenda, the very same one that young people have fought and starved for? Or will he stand up for young and marginalized communities, and fight for an agenda that saves lives?
Let’s be clear: No one will remember who Joe Manchin is, or what the Senate procedures are, but they will remember that Democrats were in power when student loan payments restarted, aid for working families stopped, and the party failed to pass robust legislation that would help millions of people.
Democrats cannot deny young people’s impact in voting, base building, and advocacy. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer must bring the legislation up for a vote and if it fails to pass the Senate, if the Democrats cannot deliver, President Biden must take immediate executive action that meets the moment of the crises we are in. If they fail to act, they will face a young, powerful electoral block that will mobilize for politicians who will fight for them.
It is time for President Biden and Democrats to play hard ball within their caucus and deliver for the young people that took a chance on them.