MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Half of Americans 18-29 years old voted in the last presidential election. It was one of the highest participation rates since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1970. One year later, is that momentum among the young still going?
College students Raina Meyer and Hufsa Ahmed say the enthusiasm across the nation is alive and well for young voters. Ahmed voted for the first time in the 2020 election, but both students have been involved in politics long before they could cast their own ballots.
“A lot of people, when they think of politics, they think, 'Oh, it's too partisan, it's too messy, it's too ugly, we're not going to get involved,'” said Ahmed. “I think it's important to remember that the future that we are looking towards is one that affects all of us, and I think a lot of young people do understand that.”
Brandon Brooks works with students and young voters to help make their voices heard as the Director of Youth Partnerships with the Minnesota Alliance with Youth. The alliance is a nonprofit that’s been around for more than 20 years, working to elevate young people’s voices to be part of the state’s legislative conversation. It helps high schoolers learn how to be more civically engaged.
Meyer and Ahmed started getting involved in their community’s politics when they joined the Minnesota Youth Council, which is part of the Minnesota Alliance with Youth. The council is the only of its kind in the country.
Minnesota is the only state giving young people a mandated space to speak lawmakers. The state passed a law to form a council of 36 young people who work directly with legislators every session. 2021 is the first year the student council got state allocated funding.
“We were able to help influence legislation, talk with our legislators and really make a difference,” said Meyer.
Brooks believes with more support like this, young voter participation will only grow.
“Students have always led the charge, and we know that they are, in real time, experiencing the world that we, as adults are creating,” said Brooks. “If we just stopped and actually gave the platform to young people, that's where the work is. That's where the power is.”
Meyer said with more of a platform, more students will speak up. She said her generation has inspiration to act.
“We grew up during the Great Recession, where we saw our parents get laid off. We saw economic crashes. We've seen climate disasters, and I think that has given us an unparalleled sense of civic duty,” said Meyer.
That is why these students are glad their state is allocating funding for this platform for young voices.
“I do think that now more than ever, we are seeing a movement of people and a movement of young people ready and willing to make the sacrifices and do the work to enact a future that we're looking for,” said Ahmed.
“This past year, it has been kind of a wake-up call for our country in terms of where a democracy stands, and there have been times when I've been scared about what's going to happen in the future, but what really gives me hope is my fellow young people,” said Meyer.
Brooks said young voters’ issues need to be considered as human rights issues and given much more attention.
“This is a whole class of people that we've all experienced, you know, as young people ourselves at one point in time, living in a world where decisions are being made about them that are affecting them in real time and they have no voice in this, and furthermore, no mechanism for which they can make their voice heard,” said Brooks.
This group hopes other states will start youth councils too, to help keep the youth involvement in democracy strong.
“Our power lies in our ability to hold that drive and ambition and continue to go on and make change,” said Meyer. “Because it's just a question of how long it will take to happen. It's not a question of if. If you really believe in something and can inspire other people to believe in it too, it will happen.”
Brooks said hearing statements like that and speaking to young voters and students is what inspires him to have faith in democracy.
“I have hope because there are young people,” said Brooks. “The young people, they know the world that they live in currently right now, and they know the world that they want to create. They speak to it because they can see it. They see the path.”
Both Ahmed and Meyer said the youth council was just the beginning of their community activism. They both have career goals to participate in their community’s growth for years to come.
If you would like to learn more about the Minnesota Youth Council, click HERE.