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Ashley Lynn Priore is the founder of Youth Political Strategies. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
Young people turned out in record numbers to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the 2020 general election. Voter turnout by 18- to 29-year-olds increased by about 10 percent compared to the 2016 election. As a HuffPost headline put it, young people and Biden “learned to love each other.”
Young people came out, not because we were excited, but because we were scared. For our lives. For our future. For democracy.
As a member of Gen Z, I was a part of this historic youth turnout. I supported Biden from the start, partly because he had the best chance of beating Donald Trump, but mostly because he is a bridge builder. Biden has the ability to unite America. But that doesn’t mean I was impressed by his campaign, especially when it came to young voters.
I spent months trying to connect with someone from Biden’s campaign. I was hoping to discuss how the campaign’s national youth engagement director needed to be under 25, not the millennial who was chosen for the role. I urged the campaign to consider the differences in policy based on ages. When I finally did get a call back, I was told something like this: “This campaign is about organizing, not policy implementation.”
In response, I founded a strategy firm dedicated to actually having youth be a part of campaigns. In December, we emailed transition team members asking about the director of youth engagement position. Initial conversations with the transition team were positive. They understand the importance of youth voice in our democracy. I’m not the only one who wants this.
In early December, March for Our Lives told CNN that Biden needed to hire a director of youth engagement and a director of gun violence prevention in the White House. Its statement read in part: “This is an important moment in our country’s history: young Americans are more politically active and engaged than ever before, and we expect this administration to be responsive to our needs.”
Biden and Harris have said much about how their administration will more accurately represent the United States’ complex demographics than did Trump’s. So, my question is: Where are the young people who make up the largest sector of the population? Where are the youth advisers?
The current transition team has one staff member (who is not even under 25) doing this work. One person can’t do everything. We need an ecosystem for youth involvement.
I urge the Biden-Harris administration to hire a director of youth engagement and build systems for young people, specifically those still in school, to be hired and provide feedback, guidance and support on the issues that impact them the most. This person should sit on the Domestic Policy Council, regularly meet with the president and senior staff about issues affecting youth and act as a liaison between students and the administration.
In fact, I wrote an entire job description for this role, including ways to organically engage youth in other departments (ranging from youth liaisons in each major department to a youth presidential council). A memo released recently by student groups called for creating an Office of Young Americans.
How do we expect to have a seat at the table for young Americans without actually engaging them in the White House? We are tired of being shut out.
Our generation has experienced two economic shutdowns, a global pandemic and has had to grow up with a president who did not value democracy. Enough is enough.