In the November 2018 elections, 31 percent of youth (ages 18-29) voted- the highest level of participation among youth in a mid-term election in the past three decades. Simultaneously, the country is in the middle of a massive demographic shift where young people of color are the fastest-growing segment of the population. In California, the overwhelming majority of millennials (over 60%) are people of color. Building and supporting the civic engagement infrastructure and leadership pipeline opportunities focusing on youth leaders, both in and outside of election cycles, holds incredible power to build and rebuild a robust and inclusive democracy. In this context, the youth turnout in 2018 is cause for celebration and presents a unique opportunity for philanthropy to engage in building momentum for 2020 and beyond.
In cities and towns across America, young people have organized to resist and reimagine our collective futures- to name just a few among many, the Dreamers, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and the March for Our Lives. In doing so, they are extending the historical legacy of young people who have long been at the forefront of transformative movements for justice and equity.
Here in California, we have witnessed an emergence of a plethora of youth advocates and organizers addressing the important issues of our day through youth-led and youth-driven strategies that combine traditional organizing, social media and voter engagement approaches. In addition to this social change work, the campaigns are built and run with youth development practices that build leadership and agency among participants. Diverse organizations, groups, and networks are growing and increasing in sophistication their strategies to address the myriad of social causes that young people care about including improving schools, LGTBQ and gender justice, protecting immigrant rights, ending mass incarceration, and advocating for climate justice. The robust electoral programs that drive youth turnout in communities of color are built upon the success of base-building groups that organize year-round. Investing in youth leadership and organizing today will have long term outcomes for the youth themselves, their families, and our state.
At our program, we:
- Had an interactive dialogue with youth leaders, organizers, and funders
- Learned how philanthropy can boldly support, seed, and invest in building youth turnout for 2020 and infrastructure that supports youth leadership on social issues that will last beyond election cycles
- Met local groups like RYSE Youth Center that provide services and leadership development as well as engaged youth in electoral wins such as Measure H in Richmond, CA
- Learned how Power CA mobilized young voters of color statewide in 2018 and their plans to build momentum towards 2020
- Learned how Youth Organizing (YO-Cali) builds statewide infrastructure for youth leadership development and organizing around issues important to young people