6 Youth-Led Political Movements to Inspire You to Vote
To make an impact, a political movement needs good ideas and the ability to make them heard. To be successful, they need innovation and passion—and the ones profiled below seem to have an unlimited supply. Whether it's a high school student with an app that connects activists, a community leader with a gift for Twitter, or a Parkland survivor turning tragedy into action, young people are tackling tough problems with new—some might say disruptive—solutions. If you're looking for inspiration as you prepare for Election Day, remember these youth-led movements and the young people who are fighting for change. And then go vote.
The movement. Period.
Started by. Nadya Okamoto, a student at Harvard University who grew up in Portland, OR.
What it's about. Period promotes the "Menstrual Movement" to give everyone access to clean and safe periods. Period is fighting for eliminating tampon taxes and providing free pads and tampons in schools. The group organized the first-ever National Period Day last October with 60 rallies in 50 states and four countries—people mimicked nose bleeds on that day to fight the stigma of periods. Because, as organizers said, "If faces were bleeding, someone would do something."
Defining moment. Realizing that tampons were taxed in most states, because they are counted as a luxury item. Fighting to repeal that tax in some states also started a movement to provide free menstrual products at colleges.
Keys to success. Inventing catchy hashtags, like #freetheperiod. "We brainstorm about them in a group chat," says Anusha Singh, one of the organizers. "Also, DMing and contacting people to join the movement through social media platforms."
Want to get involved? Email [email protected].
The movement. United We Dream
Started by. The National Immigration Law Center, an organization that advocates for immigrants' rights.
What it's about. United We Dream supports permanent protections for all immigrants, regardless of immigration status, using youth-led coalitions across the United States. It pushed for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) to prevent deportation of young people brought to the United States as children. The group also places a high value on diversity, being inclusive of everyone regardless of immigration status, gender, race and sexual orientation. "At UWD we believe that those closest to the pain are closest to the solution," says group spokesman Jose Munoz.
Defining moment. In 2008, when a Senate coalition formed to move the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors bill (now known the DREAM Act) out of immigration reform and under the Department of Defense budget instead, organizers knew this fight was getting serious.
Keys to success. Using storytelling to make people care about their issues. "It is the power of young people and their ability to share their stories that we believe helps to dispel fear and stigma that undocumented communities can feel," Munoz says.
Want to get involved? Get details on the United We Dream website.
The movement. Team ENOUGH
Started by. Aalayah Eastmond, a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and other activists who joined with the Brady Campaign, the national gun violence organization.
What it's about. Team ENOUGH is an intersectional youth movement focused on gun violence and related issues, including domestic violence, suicide, marginalized communities, and mass shootings. "The majority of people impacted are people of color, so we need to create space for youth of color to have these conversations," Eastmond says.
Defining moment. Eastmond not only survived Parkland, she lost an uncle to gun violence. She realized the gun violence movement was more focused on mass shootings and didn't include other types of shootings that occur more frequently. "It was very white washed, a lot of organizations that came out of my school didn't make the effort to include other communities," Eastmond says. So she started her own organization and joined with the Brady Campaign.
Keys to success. Using social media not only to share ideas, but also to connect with other youth activists, "not just about gun violence, but climate change, police brutality and other issues," she says. "We need to have conversations and be comfortable with being uncomfortable."
Want to get involved? Follow @Team_ENOUGH on Twitter.
The movement. Justice for Laquan McDonald
Started by. Ja'Mal Green, a racial justice activist and 2018 Chicago mayoral candidate.
What it's about. After Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black man, was shot by Chicago police, Green and others advocated for police accountability, criminal justice reform, and cannabis legalization. But they added issues they argue contribute to a cycle of disenfranchisement affecting poor Chicagoans, such as college and medical debt, health care access, and gun violence. "I saw so many people be shot in Chicago, and myself almost being shot, so we're making sure we have people address the root causes of gun violence," Green said.
Defining moment. When dashboard cameras later showed McDonald was walking away from the officers when he was shot. The protests that followed "made everyone pay attention to politics," Green says. "That made me get even more active so we don't have more Laquan McDonalds, not just in terms of police brutality, but also Laquan was in foster care, wasn't in school much, didn't have school to keep him on the right track."
Keys to success. Green and other activists are focusing on elections for judges and are pushing a slate of candidates, from state attorneys general to circuit court judges, "who represent access to justice, fight to right the wrongs, and reform the criminal justice system." His Twitter, with 20,000 followers, is informative and entertaining.
Want to get involved? Contact Green on Twitter @JaymalGreen.
The movement. Future Coalition
Started by. A group of activists from different organizations who decided to join forces.
What it's about. Future Coalition is a national network of youth-led organizations and youth organizers who work on the climate crisis, gun violence prevention, gender equity, and more. It encompasses more than 50 political groups, including March for Our Lives (gun control), the Sunrise Movement (climate change), and Project Exchange (cultural exchange). "We believe that young people have the ideas and passion to make extraordinary change in their local communities and across this country," says group spokesperson Dillon Bernard. "In 2020, Future Coalition's focus is on mobilizing young people across the country to vote and be engaged in the political process."
Defining moment. The student protests inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg's Fridays for Future made Future Coalition's organizers realize the power that young people can have in advocating for change. "We deserve a future fueled by dreams and possibilities, not one shaped by corporate greed and political power," says Bernard. "In 2020, we have the unique possibility to redirect the future of our country by ensuring young people, the current and future leaders of the country, are at the decision-making tables."
Keys to success. Pushing to register as many young people as possible to vote in 2020, and then making sure they turn out on Election Day.
The movement. Turnout, the Young Activist's App
Started by. Zev Shapiro, a high school student from Cambridge, MA.
What it's about. Shapiro and his team are building an app to increase activism and voter turnout among young people. He says the goal is to be like the app Strava (which cyclists and runners use to share routes and engage with each other about fitness) but for organizing. "The app has civics lessons, a home activity feed to see what friends are doing, events, resources to get people registered to vote, and it gives people an impact score based on what they are doing," Shapiro says.
Defining moment. After the Parkland shooting, Shapiro says he saw millions of young people who wanted to participate but didn't know how to get involved. "They needed someplace for organizing so the movement would be sustained," he says. He looked around and didn't find any other platforms, so he created Turnout.
Keys to success. Having a mix of generations and experience levels on the team. "We work with young people to make sure the app is usable, but the advisory board gives us their experience," Shapiro says.
Want to get involved? Sign up to be on the team at https://www.turnup.us/.
For even more resources to help navigate election season, visit our Young Voter's Guide to Social Media and the News.