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All politics is local
With a divided D.C. and no federal elections immediately on the horizon, youth-led and youth-focused organizations are focusing on state and local politics.
As students head back to campus and the new year kicks off into full gear, youth-led and youth-focused organizations are getting their bearings for 2023. With a divided D.C. and no federal elections immediately on the horizon, I’m told most of the attention has shifted to state and local politics. In states like Virginia and Georgia, youth-led organizers are focused on legislative action. For its part, social media coalition Gen Z for Change plans to organize online and on the ground ahead of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election.
In Georgia, the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition’s political arm is focused on education policy around safer schools, eliminating child poverty, protecting LGBTQ+ rights, and voting rights. The group is also focused on narrative building and political education work, said Alex Ames, organizing director for the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition.
“We've been advocating for the past eight months to return Georgia's tax payer dollars from the state's bank account to our local schools - the Governor's listening to us now, but we need more than just bare minimum school budgets. We need pro-child policy that ensures that Black, brown, LGBTQ+, first gen, disabled, and poor students succeed. Politicians aren't our friends, they're supposed to listen to us and act accordingly,” said 19-year-old Georgia Youth Justice Coalition lobbyist Kennedi Malone.
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Meanwhile today in Virginia, a group of five youth-led organizations announced they’re teaming up to form the Coalition of Virginia’s Future, which will focus on empowering young Virginians to engage in the legislative process.
The groups – Voters of Tomorrow Virginia, Generation Ratify VA, the Pride Liberation Project, Virginia Teen Democrats, and the Virginia Young Democrats’ Teen Caucus – came together to build youth representation in the Commonwealth and have set their agenda for a full throttle session of lobbying state delegates and senators. The coalition will focus its policy priorities on reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, gun violence prevention, and other issues directly impacting young people, such as education.
For his part, Elijah Lee – Voters of Tomorrow Virginia’s 15-year-old co-president – said the coalition came together just before the start of the new legislative session.
“We saw the world around us start to deteriorate,” Lee said, referencing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and growing calls for racial justice over the past many years. “In my eyes and many of the other coalition partners’ eyes, that means that we as young people have to use our voices. We have to be the ones to bring awareness to the issues we’re hearing, especially when those in power don’t want to listen.”
The coalition has already identified a slate of bills as part of its own “policy agenda.” The group says it supports a bill that would allow students to comment at school board meetings, a bill that expands training around Title IX and sexual harassment prevention, a bill that deals with financial aid at public institutions of higher education, and a resolution that would allow 16-year-olds to register to vote and vote in local elections. The group says it opposes a bill that would prohibit abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Voters of Tomorrow Virginia’s 15-year-old co-president Elijah Lee said that Voters of Tomorrow Virginia has two main priorities this legislative session: getting youth leaders into rooms with decision makers and bringing other young Virginians along with them. Like the coalition, the group is mainly focused on reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights.
He described a “two-fold plan” to lobby legislators “as much as possible” on the bills up for debate and to focus on the Commonwealth’s upcoming 2023 elections. He said that Voters of Tomorrow Virginia will be launching endorsements based on candidates’ stances on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.
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