How Students Fought for Democracy in 2022

How Students Fought for Democracy in 2022

How Students Fought for Democracy in 2022

Recent StudentNation coverage highlights the issues weighing on young people—and how they are organizing to fight back.


For more than a decade, The Nation has highlighted the work of aspiring journalists in StudentNation, an online section of the magazine written by young people. With generous support from the Puffin Foundation, StudentNation has published hundreds of talented young writers covering a wide range of issues through local reporting, firsthand accounts, interviews, and personal essays. The following material is adapted from three recent StudentNation articles. To see the original stories, go to

What Keith Ellison’s Reelection Means for Tough-on-Crime Rhetoric

By Theia Chatelle (December 19, 2022)

If Democrats hope to fend off future Republican attacks on vulnerable representatives, they could draw on Keith Ellison’s playbook. He faced a difficult challenge to his reelection bid from Jim Schultz, who, like many other GOP candidates across the country, was looking to win the votes of suburban voters by inflaming fears of rising crime in America’s urban centers. Ultimately, Ellison beat Schultz by only 21,000 votes, enough to avoid a recount. What worked for Ellison might not work in other areas of the country, but his message on crime as a broader phenomenon that hurts consumers and communities resonated with Minnesota voters.

Ellison was able to point to his substantive record of fighting profiteering and white-collar crime and protecting consumers as Minnesota’s attorney general. However, in a state scarred by division in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Republicans were able to capitalize on voters’ fears and create a very close race for an otherwise popular Democratic incumbent.

Students Tell Their Universities: Keep Fossil Fuel Companies Out of Climate Research

By Ilana Cohen (November 22, 2022)

Bringing pizza and wearing T-shirts that read “No More Fossil Fuel Money,” they came well-prepared. On November 14, nine students at George Washington University occupied the main office of the Regulatory Studies Center for 12 hours to kick off the international days of action. The center has received at least $6 million from ExxonMobil and far-right charitable organizations heavily associated with climate denialism, including the Koch Family Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

For Bella Kumar, a coordinator for Sunrise GW, the 2022 midterm elections crystallized the desire to hold the center accountable. “Our government has failed to deliver on climate change and our representatives are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry, and we know it,” said Kumar, who expressed frustration with her university’s inaction. “Universities occupy a unique space in their ability to vastly alter the social license of an industry through research. Demanding fossil-free research is not only giving us the opportunity to take back our institutions, but setting standards for our academic freedom and our futures.”

Illinois Voters Just Made Collective Bargaining a Constitutional Right

By Tomas Miriti Pacheco (November 17, 2022)

On November 8, voters in Illinois took to the polls to approve the addition of Amendment 1, also known as the Workers’ Rights Amendment, to their state Constitution. The amendment guarantees the fundamental right to organize and collectively bargain for Illinois workers. ”No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively,” it states.

At the University of Chicago, the largest employer in the city’s low-income South Side, organizers have spent weeks reflecting on the impact that the amendment will have and the struggles that led to this moment. On November 2, the UChicago Graduate Students United–UE passed a joint endorsement of the amendment with organizers at Northwestern University during a meeting attended by more than 200 members. “This amendment is a milestone in establishing the right to organize as a fundamental right of workers,” said Joe Rathke, a member of UChicago’s GSU who studies labor history.

Rathke is not alone in his excitement over the win. The passage of the amendment is a historic achievement for organized labor, particularly in the Midwest, which had been a hostile environment for workers. Recently, the country—and Illinois specifically—has seen a dramatic resurgence of unions. In May 2022, Chicago became home to the first Starbucks in the Midwest to request a union election, and since then multiple locations in the city have followed. According to WBEZ Chicago, workers in the city filed 45 percent more NLRB petitions in 2022 than in the previous year: “Chicagoans are organizing their workplaces at a rate the city hasn’t seen in more than a decade.”

Illinois has set an example for how organizers in other states can secure meaningful labor victories. “We have the history of a labor movement that fought tooth and nail for these rights and to protect them from being undermined,” Rathke said. “This is a very Midwestern story.”

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