It’s been a busy last few months for Georgia State University Sophomore James Wilson. While most of his classmates were stressing about their public policy midterms, Wilson and his friends at the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition have been hitting the pavements and phone banks, working to get out the vote ahead of the November elections.
“The main thing that’s motivating me is money,” says Wilson, 20, “who has it, who doesn’t have it, who needs it, and the fact that the state government just does not seem to care.”
Wilson, who is Black, says that the younger generation of organizers and voters often have different priorities and reasons for voting than their parents and grandparents.
“Even my family, when I think about how they vote, a lot of them vote because they want to honor the legacy of their ancestors,” explains Wilson. “A lot of them vote also for financial reasons. A lot of them vote because their taxes are too high, or their taxes are too low.”
Younger Georgians are voting for the future they want for themselves and for future generations, says Wilson. “A lot of younger Georgians are voting on our lives, and our livelihoods, and the lives that we want to live and the lives that we want to give to our families, should we choose to have one,” he says.
With less than a week left before the November election, Wilson is just one of countless young Black organizers in battleground states hoping to have an impact.
Turning out young voters in battle ground states like Georgia will be key if Democrats want to win next Tuesday. In Georgia, young people of color, who favor Democrats, make-up nearly half of the young voting-age population, according to Tuft’s Center for Information on Civic Learning and Engagement.
And early voting numbers have thus far not shown the surge in young voters that Democrats in the state had hoped for this year.
Nalah Lewis, 29, a Black organizer with Planned Parenthood Votes in Atlanta, Georgia, says she is keenly aware of the stakes in this election.
“I feel like we’re under attack in a lot of different ways,” says Lewis. “Obviously, reproductive rights. But when it comes to access to health care, having affordable housing, gun control, public safety, are always the top priorities for the youth that I have [spoken to].”
National polling reflects some of what Lewis has been hearing on the streets of Atlanta. In their latest poll, the University of Chicago’s GenForward survey asked Black Americans aged 18-40 to pick the most important issue to them ahead of the November election.
Roughly 19 percent of Black survey respondents said inflation, 10 percent said economic growth, 9 percent said racism, 7 percent said gun control and 7 percent said abortion and reproductive rights.
Fighting for reproductive justice and autonomy is a major motivator for Lewis, who says she’s grateful to have been able to access abortion care when she was younger.
“If I weren’t able to have access, who knows what the trajectory of my life would be,” says Lewis. “It’s really imperative that other women and people that are able to give birth have that same access for themselves.”
Kamri Williams, 25, says the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has had a big impact on young people she’s spoken to while canvassing.
“I’ve seen like a really big push from folks excited about getting out to the polls and feeling inspired and charged up by the decision to take down Roe in July,” says Williams, who has been mobilizing voters in North Carolina on behalf of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
In the University of Chicago’s GenForward Survey released on Tuesday, a plurality of Black Americans aged 18-40 said that the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe made them more likely to support Democrats.
Although abortion has previously been relegated to a “culture war issue,” Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, a political organizing group focused on women of color, says that for young women of color, abortion “is deeply intertwined with the issue of economic stability.”
“We’re hearing that for women of color, determining when and if to have children is deeply connected to the economic realities of the cost of food, rent, child care and education,” says Allison.
Younger Black organizers aren’t just talking about these issues differently, says Allison, they’re also pioneering new voter mobilization strategies.
“Black organizing is expanding out beyond… organizing people in the pews, although that’s very legitimate,” says Allison, “for the younger generation, who aren’t necessarily members of churches… they’re activating new networks, and that’s exciting to see.”
Jesten Slaw, 33, Vice President of the Louisville Young Democrats and the Kentucky Young Democrats, says he’s had a lot of luck working with youth groups and on college campuses.
“Everytime I see a young Black person, I try to put them under my wing and bring them along with me so that we can do great things,” says Slaw.
Slaw’s group the Louisville Young Democrats have been especially focused on turning out Democratic voters for the mayoral race next week. “This is pivotal for the city,” says Slaw, who is primarily focused on affordable housing and economic development.
Issues like abortion, health care, the economy, inflation, and gun control, have largely been dominating the election. But, for young organizers like Jordan Madden, 18, climate change also looms large this November.
“The effects of climate change have already started, and they’re not slowing down,” says Madden, who like Wilson is also a member of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition.
Supporting candidates who are in favor of policies like the Green New Deal, protecting Indigenous lands, and ensuring that Black and brown communities have the necessary infrastructure to deal with the climate crisis, is vital, says Madden.
“I know we can’t stop it,” says Madden. “But we can protect ourselves and continue to build not just an economy but a world that can work and play through it.”
Madden and Wilson are both hopeful their efforts in Georgia can help drive turnout this year. But Wilson says he worries they won’t get the numbers they need due to issues like voter suppression and lack of widespread voter education.
“Right now, if you want me to, I can give you 30 names of people who do not have state ID right now, who are 18 years old,” says Wilson referencing the state’s voter ID laws. “These are people who want to vote, but they don’t have a state ID to do that right now.”
Regardless of turnout next Tuesday, Wilson hopes that older generations won’t count out the younger generation’s world-view and approach to politics.
“We’re really connecting the dots and seeing a whole picture of how discrimination affects our whole community,” says Wilson “What we’re trying to do is build coalitions of all these people.”