Erin Phillips: Welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m lead producer Erin Phillips, filling in for our host Daniella Gibbs Léger. We’ve got something a little different for you this week. In lieu of our normal podcast interview, we’re sharing a panel on the role of young Americans in the 2022 midterms featuring, among others, the first Gen Z member of Congress, Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL). It’s a great conversation on the issues motivating young people and their role in building long-term political power to enact a progressive agenda. But first, let’s get to some news.
This past weekend on January 8, you saw yet another global example of the dangers of right-wing extremism. Violent supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stormed government buildings and challenged the results of the recent presidential election, which was won by left-wing politician Lula da Silva. Does this sound familiar to you? Because it sure did to me, especially hot on the heels of the two-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection here in the U.S. But there were some key differences. In Brazil, politicians on all sides unanimously condemned the violent mob and security forces made widespread arrests, removing the rioters quickly from the capitol. Meanwhile, in the U.S., we still have elected officials who don’t accept the gravity of the violent uprising on January 6.
The bottom line is that right-wing populist leaders, including Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, are feeling increasingly emboldened. They’re using online platforms to radicalize their base and make unfounded claims about legitimate elections. And they’re currently facing little to no accountability, even less so in the U.S. For example, just over the weekend, [Rep.] Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who obstructed last year’s investigations into the January 6 insurrection, was voted speaker of the House. And in order to get enough votes, he made big concessions to that cohort of MAGA extremists, many who still spout the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen. This just underscores how important it is that we start to hold people like McCarthy and Trump accountable, not just for our own sake but to set an example for our neighbors facing similar threats from right-wing extremists. It’s the only way to keep things like this from continuing to happen at home and abroad.
If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod—that’s @TheTentPod. And please let us know what you think of the show. You can rate and review us wherever you’re streaming from, and we really appreciate your feedback. Stick around for our panel discussion with Rep. Maxwell Frost and others in just a beat.
Navin Nayak: Hello everyone, good morning. My name is Navin Nayak. I’m the president and executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and I’m going to be the moderator today. Very excited to welcome you all to our first event of 2023 and couldn’t think of a better conversation to start the year off than talking about young voters who are shaping the future of this country. Three months ago, all the pundits, media—conservatives—were talking about not a red wave but a red tsunami. They were talking about a shellacking. They were talking about progressives being in panic. None of that happened. From Arizona to Michigan, from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, progressives won up and down the ballot—races they were not expected to win—flipping state Houses, state Senates, and of course winning a lot of statewide races.
Obviously, success has a lot of fathers and mothers. But one thing that is undeniable is the role that young people played in the election. If you look at the Senate race in Pennsylvania, John Fetterman (D) won young voters by a 70-to-29 margin. You look at the governor’s race in Wisconsin, [Tony] Evers (D) was reelected by a similar margin. And in Georgia, Raphael Warnock (D) was reelected to the Senate by a 2-to-1 margin. No other age cohort supported one party by a larger margin. All those races were decided by less than five points. In each case, young people were difference-makers.
And this is not the first time. This was the second-highest turnout for young people in a midterm. The highest turnout was in 2018, and the highest turnout ever was in 2020. So, there is a pattern that has emerged in the last few elections of young people showing up, having their voices heard, and shaping the direction of this country. What does it mean for the future of where this country goes? What does it mean for future elections? We have a fantastic panel to dig into that. And so let me go ahead and introduce them.
So, our new Representative—not Rep.-elect anymore—Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost is one of the newest members of Congress, representing the 10th District of Florida, not only the youngest member, but the first from Gen Z to serve in Congress. Prior to that, national organizing director with March for Our Lives and an organizer with ACLU. To his left, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who is the president and executive director of NextGen America, which is focused on empowering young people to engage in the political process. They’ve had unbelievable success registering 1.4 million young voters and really leading the way in 2020, helping turn out more than 4.6 million young voters in, as I mentioned, the highest-turnout election for young people in this country. She’s also the founder of two statewide organizations in Texas on civil rights issues. Fantastic to have you, Cristina. And last but certainly not least, Rachael Russell, who is the associate director of polling and analytics at the Hub. She oversees and manages all day-to-day polling and research and analytics for the Navigator. For those of us in D.C. paying attention to politics, it’s become an indispensable tool for understanding where the public is at and what’s driving conversations. And before that, she was with the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
So, welcome to you all. I will just start with you, Congressman. Obviously, a very symbolic victory: first time a [member of] Gen Z is serving in Congress. I’d love to just start the conversation there. What does your election represent? What does it say about your generation’s engagement in politics?
Rep. Maxwell Frost: Yeah, well, thank you for having me. Hello, everybody. Hope everyone’s doing well. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about because the two things people know about me is that I’m Gen Z and I couldn’t get an apartment in D.C. So, they know a lot about this. And I think a few things. Number one, being the first of anything in an institution like Congress, I think is worth celebrating and is exciting. But I think the point here is not that Gen Z has been waiting to get into Congress—we’ve just got old enough, I’m the oldest a Gen Z’er can be—but I think it’s the fact that we’ve gotten in so early, and that we’re being involved so early. And I attribute a lot of that to these huge movements we’ve seen over the past several years, things like March for Our Lives, things like after seeing a Black man being lynched in broad daylight on Twitter, George Floyd, taking to the streets, an entire generation really fighting for justice. And then taking that power and yes, taking it to the ballot box, running for office, but also being involved in local mutual aid and being involved in arts and culture and everything like that. I have the unique perspective of being someone who’s worked in electoral space. I’m also an artist. And then I’ve also done mutual aid. And I’m a candidate. And so, I think oftentimes we hear people dismiss one element of advocacy, but I think that we need all of it. I mean, we need every tool in our toolbox.
And so, what does this mean? I think it’s exciting. I think it’s a message to Gen Z, but I think young people are pretty stubborn and are excited no matter what, if I was elected or not. But I think this is actually a bigger message to everybody else to not count young people out of the process, not count young people out of anything. And I don’t see myself as the representative of a generation. I see myself as the representative of Florida’s 10th Congressional District. We’re all representatives of Gen Z, right? All Gen Z’ers, whether you’re clergy, a teacher, an artist, etc. We’re all tasked with that. And so, yeah, it’s the honor of a lifetime.
Nayak: Fantastic. We’ll spend some time looking forward, obviously, and where we’re going, but I want to take a few minutes to step back and talk obviously about the midterms we just came out of. Cristina and Rachael, I want to turn to you with a few questions—and I’ll pull you in as well, Congressman—but just, obviously, a lot of conversation and people are trying to figure out why we saw this sort of record turnout in 2018. One part of that really focused on the threats, which were pretty historic, around abortion. A lot of survey research showed, or even analysis, I think, by CIRCLE [the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement], that that was the top issue for young voters. Maybe I’ll start with you, Cristina, just in terms of the threats on abortion, on democracy, how much did that play, either in your conversations or in your sense of what led to this sort of historic turnout?
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez: Well, I think what you said in the beginning was important: that it’s 2018, it’s 2020, it’s 2022. So NextGen is coming up on our 10-year anniversary. And we were started with the premise that we could take on the biggest challenges around climate change, around income inequality, if we mobilize young people, which 10 years ago, we were told was a waste of money and time because young people would never turn out. And so, this third election of historic turnout has busted the myth that one, young people don’t care and two, that also for myself, a grandma Millennial, that as we’re getting older, we’re becoming more conservative, and the data is also busting that as well.
So, young people turned out in 2018, yes, and in 2020, to defeat the threat of fascism, but young people also turned out because they’re trying to build a country that is more just, more inclusive, more fair. And so, record-breaking youth voter turnout didn’t just get us the defeat of Donald Trump. It got us historic gun safety legislation. It got us the largest single investment by any single country on the planet to tackle the climate crisis. It got us student debt cancellation, and it got us long-overdue marijuana reform. And that is just the beginning of the youth agenda. And so I think we see a lot of young people that were mobilized, especially young women, because of the threat on abortion rights and the clear understanding that this wasn’t the end, but this was the opening salvo to take away our rights, the gains we had made on marriage equality, take away our rights to contraception. And so what I always tell older folks when they say young people don’t care is, this is the most progressive generation in American history right now. This is also the most politically engaged generation in American history. And so long term, young people are remaking what’s possible politically, and what’s possible on policy in this country. So, I get a lot of hope and excitement that it’s no longer just a coincidence. This is a pattern which we have to pay attention to and invest in.
Nayak: Rachael, let me pull you in on that same question, just how the threats from MAGA Republicans taking away these freedoms played more broadly.
Rachael Russell: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that was a huge thing at play for young voters especially, especially women under 30. But we had been tracking risks to abortion as it sort of began at the state level. And in Texas, in September of 2021, just getting a baseline of how Americans were feeling, how they viewed the right to abortion at risk and what they viewed about the Supreme Court, about their favorability. And we saw a complete 180, especially when it came to trust in the Supreme Court, their favorability and opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs, given the leaked decision in May and then further in June, when the actual decision came down. There was extreme opposition, especially from young voters, and that went as far as to the ballot. We saw in our postelection survey among 2022 voters—people that said they voted in the midterms this year—among young people and women under 30, what they said was the reason that brought them out as their main takeaway for voting for Democrats in this election was that they said that they believed that Democrats were going to keep the right to make the decision to have an abortion between a patient and their doctor, and not give that decision to the government. And so I definitely think the threats—on top of landmark legislation being passed—I think the threats to abortion access, especially among a generation that has grown up with that as a guarantee for 50 years—Millennials and Gen Z have expected this—and so to just take that away, especially starting at the state level, and then further at the federal Supreme Court level, young people were not just going to stand by, and we definitely saw that in this election.
Nayak: I actually want to bring you in, Congressman, on the same point, but from a slightly different perspective, which is—Cristina sort of touched on this—we did see one of the most productive Congresses in a generation, especially on issues that young people not only care about and support but that they’ve been agitating for action on: largest investment ever on climate change; cancellation of up to $10,000 in student debt; first time doing anything about gun violence in this country in 30 years. I’m both curious how much, in your own race, this played a factor and whether you think—a lot of the media coverage, a lot of the communication did focus, understandably, on the threats that were very visceral as well—is there more room even moving forward to be touting, reminding people of what actually has gotten accomplished over the last couple years?
Rep. Frost: No, I think we have to. We’re coming into a Congress where, yesterday I was sitting down with my team looking at all the things I’m voting on this week, and I just got really sad. This is a Congress that’s going to be passing a lot of resolutions and bills to virtue signal. We have a Republican majority that wants to fight to take away the right to choose and the right to bodily autonomy. They want to fight to, at the expense of marginalized communities, bring up other communities. And so, for me, it’s important that we continue to get back to what the last two years have been. And we have to be honest, it wasn’t everything we wanted. We know this, but I think showing people that government can work for them is part of what’s going to help with voter turnout. There’s no big secret why 50 percent of this country doesn’t vote. It’s because people for generations have been lied to by politicians who say, “Vote for me and this will happen.” That’s just not how our system works. And I think it’s important that we have leaders who don’t see themselves as just working for movements or for people but working with people and see themselves as part of a greater whole. And that’s the way I see myself. A lot of that comes from the fact that I’ve been an organizer and come from the movement world. But that’s the way I see myself. That’s the way I see my colleagues.
We’re working in this institution to fight for a better world to pass the bills we want. But we all know that to pass the bills you want, it’s a math problem. And to fix that math problem, we’ve got to get people to go out and vote and vote these people out and switch it. You’ve got to change the math. And so, I think all of this comes down to showing people that government can work for them, and I think touting the wins of the last two years is an incredibly important part of that. Especially because and then for these next two years, we’re not going to see any bills like that get passed. I don’t say this to be pessimistic; I say this to be real. Because I think setting expectations is part of the reason we’re in the problem we’re in now, with people not going out to vote because the expectations have been here. And people get this, and they feel like “My vote doesn’t matter.” And I don’t blame them and I’m not going to shame them for feeling that way. All we can do is point forward, look at what we’ve done, and talk about this broader movement, the fact that we need everybody at the table. We know voting isn’t going to save us all. It’s one tool in our toolbox, but we need to use it.
Nayak: Excellent, and if anyone had any doubts, last week probably put them to rest of whether this Congress could get anything done. I want to pull in another issue that wasn’t really central to the midterms, but a lot of data show, and [American Progress] has written about this, that young voters are the generation that supports unions at sort of the highest level. Two-thirds of younger voters support unions. Cristina, I know you have a background working on these kinds of issues. I’m curious to have you talk about both why you think that this generation has such a solidarity for unions and support for unions. And are there any other issues that we’re not paying attention to where young voters really are going to be a force, either in shaping the economy or shaping—we talk about the ones like climate, and obviously gun violence—I’m curious if there are others like that that might be under the radar more broadly.
Tzintzún Ramirez: This is the first generation in American history to be worse off than their parents when we talk about core issues that young people are up against. And I also think about what’s been centered in the Democratic Party: climate change, racial justice, economic justice. A lot of that has come from young people organizing in Occupy Wall Street, organizing in the climate movement. And the next big frontier is also about housing and inequality in this country. And I think we’re going to see young people organizing around that issue more and more. But because it’s the first generation to be worse off than their parents, young people are thinking about, why don’t we judge our economy by how well working people are doing instead of just by the GDP and unemployment figures? That there has to be a reset in how we think about economic well-being in this country.
One of the things that I wish we had done more of this election, especially reaching out to young people, at NextGen we divided up our electorate. We talked to young women because young college-educated women said they cared about abortion when we polled them, and then less college-educated young people wanted to talk about the economy. And I think that there was a lot of debate on our side about whether we talk about abortion or economy. And in my mind, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. And that economic pain that people feel is real, and then if we’re not talking about the economy, then the other side talks about the economy. And there’s only one party in my mind that supports raising the minimum wage to a living wage. There’s only one party that supports unions and protecting them, and there’s only one party that supports taxing the rich their fair share. And so we need to do a better job of owning the economic future. And it is not just about making changes on the margins. I think it’s about reshaping and rethinking our entire economy, and unions are going to be central to that. And that’s why you have young people at the forefront of Starbucks and Amazon and these fights that are energizing young people across the country.
Russell: Yeah, I mean, I think as we talk about this generation being so pro-union, I think a lot does have to do with this life-changing pandemic that we’ve seen. And people were deemed essential workers and I think we’re, unfortunately, seeing this big-business mentality where employees aren’t getting the respect that they deserve from their employers. And they’re seeing that shareholders are making record profits and, unfortunately, wages aren’t staying with inflation. And so I think this generation fairly sees this lack of transparency, this lack of fair wages, and really has become advocates in this space for good because I think it’s something that, unfortunately, the pandemic has really exacerbated.
Rep. Frost: I’ll say another part of it, I think, too—and I think this connects to all the issues—is that I’ve found in my organizing that young people really see the world through the eyes of the most vulnerable. And they’re using that vision to inform the way they feel about all these issues. That’s why so many young people are so pro-union, right? It’s about thinking about our most vulnerable communities, our workers, the communities we live in, our parents, our friends, us. We’re thinking about our community. Same thing with immigration, foreign policy, gun violence. Every time I get into youth organizing spaces, I’m hearing people talk about these issues. I think when we talk about this generation being one of the most, being the most progressive generation we’ve seen, I think a lot of it has to do with just having this approach where humanity is at the forefront of everything. The first thing we think of is a human, a person, love, and I think that informs every single one of the issues.
Nayak: I want to obviously not treat young voters, as a few of you’ve touched on, as monolithic. So, we saw pretty significant differences with women—young women—supporting Democrats at a much higher rate than young men. We saw support among young Black voters hovering around 90 percent. Young white voters in the sort of 50s or 60s. And then obviously, a continued real difference between those who went to college. So, I’m curious how you all think—Cristina, you touched a little bit about this in terms of the messaging approach for different audiences—but just to reflect on how we should be thinking about that more broadly in not assuming that there’s one issue or one message that’s going to click with all young voters?
Russell: Absolutely. I think Cristina was completely correct in that young women, in our polling, specifically showed that abortion was their number-one issue when they left the polls. We also saw that Gen Z said a similar thing. But across gender and race, we were also seeing inflation as a really big pain point. I think revisioning an economy that is going to work for everybody is really important for the progressive space, so that, maybe we’re thinking about paid family and medical leave. Just revisioning a world that not only includes abortion rights and making sure that we’re thinking about what young women are thinking about, but the larger picture of how we make this economy more just for all, listening to all voters, all young voters. And this also starts with something we’re thinking about in the polling industry of how we reach young voters. And does anyone on this stage have a landline? No, we don’t poll young people that way anymore. We do a lot of web-based panels, we do multimodal and qualitative groups so that we are really trying to listen and understand how young people feel and what they’re thinking about so that we’re not just getting the few old white people with landlines.
Tzintzún Ramirez: So, there were clear differences on gender. At NextGen, we classify young voters as 18 to 35. And that’s a huge cohort. What a 19-year-old needs, what a 32-year-old needs is very different at their stage of life. Also, I think we think of young voter and the first image that usually comes to many people’s minds is a young person—a young white person, usually—on a college campus. And that is actually not the majority of who we’re talking to. We need to remember this is the most diverse generation in American history. This is also the most queer generation. There was a huge divide in young voters that were LGBTQ. It was the biggest distinction of how many voted for progressives. And also, when we think about the backbone of the Democratic Party, oftentimes people think of a young African American or a young Latino woman. Well, the most common age for a Latino and African American woman to have their first child is age 25. So, we are also talking about a lot of young working-class families and working families and need to make sure our messaging reaches and speaks to that. And so that’s why we segment our messaging and our outreach based on, we look at not just gender, we look at race, obviously, but we also look at stage of life. Do they have children? Do they not have children? Are they college educated or not college educated? And it isn’t to say that that changes—what it changes is what their pain points are, and we have to speak to people’s pain so that they can understand their power that they have to make progressive change.
Rep. Frost: Yeah, the quick thing I’ll say on this is I think one of the biggest problems with our party is this notion that there’s one, like, silver bullet or one message, right, that’ll get young people, that’ll get women, that’ll get whoever. I really do think the age of the single-issue voter is really dying, especially young folks coming in. What I find is young people are viewing a lot of these issues holistically. So, when I talk with people and I say, “What issues do you care about?” Either I’m on a college campus or I’m at an event or this and that. I never hear one event. I’m always hearing a million events and how they start a million problems and how they tie together. And I think it’s really important that our messaging also reflects the same thing. And that’s something we did in my campaign. And a lot of our organizing, and I agree, is on college campuses, but also was outside of it. Our youth organizing program was—most of it was—outside of college campuses and more around culture-based and art-based events, because that’s where we were able to get an electorate that needed to be spoken with. A lot of these colleges, especially UCF and Orlando, they have a lot of programs through student government and this and that to get young people involved. It’s not enough, but it’s great. But we really focused on our community college, number one, because those students live in the community year round and they’re from there. And then we get to reach their parents as well. But the other thing is, how are we communicating with folks who are outside of college and who are not doing that route in their life? And so I think it’s important that we meet people where they’re at.
Nayak: Excellent. We are heading into a period where, at least in D.C., very little is going to get done. I think a younger generation that recognizes the threats we face, whether on climate or gun violence, where we’re going to get reminded of these, sadly, regularly through storms or sort of horrific acts of violence, there’s a real sense of impatience. I’m curious how, both Cristina from a NextGen perspective communicating on this and, obviously, as a congressman, how do we go about keeping this generation engaged in the next two years when there is this frustration with what’s going to happen, at least in Washington, and how to communicate to make sure they don’t disengage because government isn’t going to be doing much?
Rep. Frost: Yeah, there’s going to be a fight. There’s going to be many fights, and I think it’s important that we work at organizing to involve people in that fight and make sure people see what’s going on. I think one of the things I hear most often—critiques of our party and politics in general from young people in my organizing—is they don’t feel like their electeds or their leaders are actually putting up a fight for them or for their community. And so, I think it’s important that, yes, there’s going to be a lot of battles that we have over the next two years in Congress. But how are we connected? Where’s the throughline from what’s going on in the Capitol to what’s going on in Orlando, Florida, or Miami, Florida, or wherever across this country? And I think that’s where the inside/outside game is so important. It’s important when we have big things like Build Back Better and we’re passing bold, transformational legislation. It’s also important when we’re on the defense because this is a time—the next two years—where we can really build up infrastructure so when we get to the place where we’re trying to get people to go out and vote, we don’t have to persuade them to vote. We just have to remind them to go vote. It’s part of the problem we have in Florida. And I think that throughline is very important.
Tzintzún Ramirez: You know, our saying at NextGen is that we don’t put our hope in any single politician or party, we put our hope in America’s young people. And that policy doesn’t just happen in Congress; it also happens at the state and local level. And there’s going to be a lot of work, especially to celebrate and also move forward and make sure people take advantage of with the climate legislation that’s come out and also opportunities in places like Michigan where there’s a trifecta to move progressive policy forward that will be really transformational. So, there’s a lot we can do at the state and local level. And then you can show over two years, this is why showing up and voting matters because who has control determines what the outcome is. And we need to determine who’s in there for us.
Nayak: Excellent, and maybe one last question here before kind of opening it up, which is, obviously, overall, a great story in terms of the second-highest turnout of young voters in this midterm but a real pattern over the last few years. But you sort of touched on this, Congressman, we still see three-quarters of young voters are not showing up, that young voters still vote at a lower rate than older generations. So, just a broader reflection on, as great as the story has been, I think CIRCLE’s—Tufts University’s—data show that young voters used to come out at a rate of about 20 percent. And in nine battleground states in this midterm, it was closer to 31 percent, which is a huge shift that takes a lot of resources, investment, and yet none of us want to be satisfied with 31 percent turnout rates. And so there’s opportunities to grow here. What does that look like moving forward?
Russell: I would say education is extremely important. While college campuses, as we’ve noted, are a really important place for civic engagement, I think including more education when they’re younger, when students are in public education, or private school, wherever they are, is really, really important to make sure that we have an emphasis on civic engagement. I think one thing—I just wanted to note that in our postelection survey, we actually had this really incredible number. We asked, among voters, what have they done since the 2020 election? Have they donated to a political candidate? Have they gone to an event? Have they volunteered for a candidate? Have they just been talking to friends and family about politics? And it’s pretty comical, I think, that you imagine your Uncle Joe Schmo at Thanksgiving talking to you about politics and these really older generations, 80 percent say they’re talking to their friends and family about politics. For Gen Z—but their actual civic engagement of volunteering and attending events is far higher than any other generation. I think it was 46 percent of Gen Z said that they attended an event or volunteered for a candidate, this is since 2020. The next closest was 23 percent among Millennials. So that’s a really incredible action and I think something NextGen is probably a big part of. So I think just making sure that we’re really engaging our youth at a young age and not just on college campuses is important. One other thing I would say is implementing more pro-voter policies is really important—making sure that we have things like automatic voter registration, or mail-in ballot, early voting. These things really take down barriers to voting that, unfortunately, really stop some people from being able to get child care or leave school or do their civic duty. So, I think those are two really important things that we should be doing.
Tzintzún Ramirez: So, one, I thank you, CAP [Action], for having this conversation in January 2023 about the youth vote. We could be having it later in 2024 but we’re having it now, so we have time to organize and think about what we do. I think policy and investments are two things we need. There’s a lot we can be doing in states, and we talked about barriers. I live in Texas, which makes it one of the hardest states to register in the country. We’re also the third-youngest state and we have rules set in place, like there is no mail-in ballot unless you’re over 65. That is age discrimination. And it’s also racial discrimination. We’ve tried to do some lawsuits about racial discrimination as well because younger people tend to be more people of color in our states. So, what we have seen are policies—that automatic voter registration in states, that’s really shifting and making it easier for young people to vote. So, pushing for those policies and preregistration, also, for people that are under 18, giving them the opportunity to do that; it’s a growing movement in states and there’s a lot we need to be pushing for at the state level for that work. Also, while Congress is not doing as much, it’s something we can push for at the state level.
And then I really want to thank also people like Congressman Maxwell Frost. I’m super proud of my colleague: Greg Casar (D) was my baby organizer when he learned how to start organizing at Workers Defense Project [and] is now a congressman from Texas. We think a lot about the power of institution, which is, if we knock on this many doors, we can turn this many people out, and we need that power and we need it to get to scale especially in youth organizing, because we are still, quite frank, the bastard stepchild of investment in organizing to win elections. But there’s the power of inspiration, which is the power of storytelling. And people can’t follow you if they can’t see you. And now we have a cohort of young dynamic people in leadership in Congress that come from communities, that come from organizing, and millions of people are following. And so that, I think, is just so powerful. It’s not something we quantify, but it has really, I think, unleashed people’s ability to see what can be done and believe that they can be part of the change as well to make it happen.
Rep. Frost: One-hundred percent. I think the policy’s such an important part because I’ve—for the last 10 years—I’ve been, with clipboards, registering voters on campuses across my state, and really across the country as well. And the times where we’ve had the best luck in doing that has been when the environment was right for it. And what I mean by that is the best way to register voters right now is obviously a clipboard going to register people, but the best way is actually when their environment is set, and people are registering to vote on their own. People are going online on their own because they feel compelled to. And I think a movement—not just because I worked there—but I think a movement that really showed this was March for Our Lives because it was part electoral organizing, part voting, part culture. If people don’t remember, culture was a huge part of March for Our Lives. I remember it was the cool thing to do and people were registering to vote. And I think that’s part of the reason 2018 was such a good year with youth turnout, was a moment that a lot of organizations, because of their year-round organizing that had been going on for a long time, had the infrastructure to capture that moment and give young people a political home.
And it’s not always that cut and dry and perfect. I’m not saying that at all. But I think having the year-round organizing is important because we will have these moments. Some will stem from tragedy, unfortunately. Some will stem from inspiration. But that’s why this year-round organizing is so important. We need to be ready to capture people and give them a political home and give them a way to organize and plug in that’s maybe outside of the apparatus of the party, which I’m a part of, that I love, blah, blah, blah. That way they can be a part of it and have a place where they can do that organizing.
And the policy is so important, too, because there are institutional barriers that keep young people from voting. The youth vote has always been the lowest piece of the pie, per se. Young people now are voting at higher numbers than we’ve ever seen in past generations at our current age. Half of Gen Z can’t even vote yet. But I think things like automatic voter registration, making it easier to vote, we need to explore allowing people to vote at a younger age, at 16, especially in municipal elections. Eighteen is a weird age to introduce any habit. Either way, that’s a whole other thing. But I think there’s a lot of structural things we need to talk about, get to, that will make it easier and not an extracurricular activity to vote but institutionalizing it in society.
Nayak: Fantastic. I thank you all for your comments. I thank the audience for joining us—just the start of a really important ongoing conversation.
Phillips: Thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out our previous episodes. Remember, we’re still in a pandemic, so stay safe. Daniella will be back next week with hot takes on everything from MAGA Republican chaos to “Monday Night Football,” so be sure to join us. Until then, take care.
“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Daniella Gibbs Léger is our host. I’m Erin Phillips, our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer and Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.