This month, we watched the nation rejoice at the end of the Trump presidency and its four-year war on the health and rights of marginalized people. But even before the election was officially called, exit polls began to paint a clear image: Young people of color played a powerful role in the outcome of the election.
The conventional wisdom has been young people don’t vote and aren’t engaged. This election proved that wrong once again and confirmed what those of us who work with Gen Z know to be true: that this generation cares deeply about their future and will demand a say in it. Through my work mobilizing young voters with Unite for Gender and Reproductive Equity (URGE), I’ve witnessed the transformative power of working with young people when we draw connections between their lives and futures and the movement for reproductive justice and abortion access.
Turnout among young people of color this election cycle was historic. More than half of all eligible voters aged 18 to 29 cast a ballot in this election and turnout increased by more than 10% from the 2016 presidential election. Sixty-one percent of young people cast their ballots for President-elect Joe Biden, and this statistic was even higher among Black, Latinx, and Asian American youth.
This mobilization doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t come without hard work and organizing, especially in states and regions that are often left behind. At URGE, we work with young people and center reproductive justice, a framework by Black women which asserts that each of us should be able to parent, not parent, live, and thrive in safe, healthy communities. We organized and mobilized young people around these issues in Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Kansas, and California—some of these states are areas where talking about abortion and birth control is considered “off limits.” From phone banking to digital organizing, we registered and spoke directly with thousands of young voters about the election and the stakes for reproductive justice issues that matter most to their families and communities. We believe we should talk about these issues everywhere, and we did, in ways that connect and resonate with people’s lived experiences.
Young people know what’s at stake. We are faced with a 6-3 anti-abortion Supreme Court, rapid and unprecedented shuttering of reproductive health clinics nationwide, and mounting, desperate attacks by state and federal lawmakers—all of which disproportionately harm communities of color and those who struggle financially amid an economic recession. And we reminded young voters that while courts and politicians don’t decide our fates, our votes do matter and it’s critical that we elect representatives who will work with us, from the White House to state legislatures.
Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that young people of color had become disillusioned with the mainstream conversation around abortion rights and reproductive rights, which often revolves around whiteness or erases the disparate experiences of communities of color. At URGE, our work with young people of color has shown me folks are deeply committed to justice and combating systemic racism. To engage and mobilize a young, diverse electorate passionate about racial justice, it’s crucial that we draw the connections between being able to choose when, if and how to become a parent and the broader fight for liberation.
This election is just the beginning—it’s a step on the road to liberation. Young people must continue to hold elected officials accountable for their promises, and more importantly, for our vision for reproductive justice—a vision that includes affordable and accessible abortion care and contraception, quality health care and fair wages for all, environmental justice, investment in communities of color, and more.
For generations, young people of color have stood at the moral center of the progressive left, demanding change, challenging oppressive systems, and fighting for a better future. This November, we showed the nation our collective electoral power. Now it’s time to sustain this power through the tumultuous presidential transition period that lies ahead, future elections, and right here in our own communities, where we can register voters, put pressure on local officials, and support local abortion funds and mutual aid efforts. Young people’s power is about more than 2020—it’s about the future.
Similarly, the movement for reproductive justice is about more than this election cycle, and certainly about more than Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. Like winning the White House, the right to abortion is the floor and not the ceiling in what our movement demands. This is about abortion access, health, dignity, racial justice, and the fundamental joy of choosing our own future.
To all those celebrating the outcomes of this election cycle: Enjoy today, thank young people of color, and come together to listen to and build with them. But there’s more work to be done, and it’s past time to mobilize and invest in the leadership and passion of young people.