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Generation Z

Gen Z will be an unbeatable force in 2024 – if we stand up to the far right together

Not everyone wants my peers and me to have a say in our democratic process. That's why I started Voters of Tomorrow, an organization with one mission: to harness the political power of young people.

Santiago Mayer
Opinion contributor

A strong democracy includes all voices. Yet as a member of Generation Z – the most diverse, educated and politically active generation in American history – I see that not everyone wants my peers and me to have a say in our democratic process. And as an immigrant, my opportunities to fight for progress are even slimmer.

I moved here in 2017 from Mexico in the midst of the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies, including the travel ban from Muslim-majority countries. Around my high school I saw anger, confusion and a determination to be the last generation to face these issues. Yet I also noticed that despite our strong feelings, we saw no way to fight back. We were teens – did anyone really care what we had to say?

I saw organizations that claimed to represent young people, but I was disappointed to see many of them spreading the same hate that I was trying to combat – some of it directed toward me and my community. And still, to this day, groups are trying to divide and silence Gen Z, which spans from 1997 to 2012.

Case in point: A recent Turning Point Action Conference sought to “activate and mobilize” young people in politics. Its mission was to celebrate what being a young person in America is like by featuring leading far-right voices. But a closer look at the conference – both in their message and who attended – paints a much more disturbing reality of not only what the far right wants young people to believe, but also why the far right is on track to lose an entire generation of voters.

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, at the Leaders of Tomorrow summit in Washington, D.C., on July 27, 2023.

Gen Z isn't falling for divisive tricks

At the conference, a majority-white-male speaker lineup preached divisiveness, promoted fear and sowed outrage to a white-dominated and older audience – all while claiming to represent my generation’s values.

Take, for instance, former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, who told the audience, “You have the right to decide who you hate.” Former President Donald Trump also doubled down on his anti-democratic views, attacking recent indictments and promising to institute a “bigger” and "much stronger" travel ban if reelected.

What’s worse: Rhetoric that the far right espoused at the Turning Point Action Conference is being translated into tangible policies in Republican-controlled states nationwide. In real time, Republicans are strategizing on how to prevent young people from exercising our freedom to vote, as The Washington Post reported in April. As we work to unite our generation and ensure our voices are included, far-right leaders are fighting to split and silence us.

GOP isn't interested in Gen Z:The Republican Party has abandoned young conservatives like me.

In Texas, for instance, Republicans introduced a bill that would ban all college election centers and drop boxes if passed. Similarly, in Florida, Republicans are attempting to make it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to conduct outreach to young people. And in Idaho, Republicans passed a bill to ban student IDs from being used to register to vote.

Yet, against this backdrop of sustained attacks on Gen Z’s ability to make our voices heard, there is hope. We see right through their divisive comments and tricks – and we know that the far right is attempting to prevent young people from voting. That’s why, in all three instances, youth-led groups have taken or are prepared to take legal action to prevent these bills from ever taking effect or stop the ones that have.

Even more important, what makes Gen Z so unique is that we put love and inclusivity first. Our youth-led movement will not be deterred by far-right leaders who claim to value young voices but, behind the scenes, actively work to suppress us. In response to attacks on our generation, we are building a sustained movement across the nation that fights back against their agenda.

Gen Z voters turned out in midterms:We voted and it was a W for democracy. We can no longer be a political afterthought.

Gen Z voters have the power – if we just show up

When I was 17, I founded Voters of Tomorrow, an organization with one mission: to harness the political power of young people. Unlike Turning Point – which claims to be an organization run by and for young people but, in reality, seems to be anything but that – Voters of Tomorrow and the movement we are part of is truly by Gen Z and for Gen Z.

Understanding the lack of political opportunities for young people, Voters of Tomorrow believes in welcoming everyone into the conversation. We believe that in order to reach Gen Z, you must center and prioritize Gen Z. We know building movements that prioritize inclusivity and diversity is a core part of who we are as a generation and building a brighter nation.

Democrat Maxwell Frost, 25, becomes the first member of Generation Z to win a seat in Congress in November 2022. A former March for Our Lives and ACLU activist, Frost won his election bid against a Republican Army veteran.

That is why, this week, we are bringing hundreds of young organizers together in Washington, D.C., to discuss the country we want to build. Instead of running on platforms that seek to instill fear and outrage into young people, we are offering a different vision. By including leaders from Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., the first Gen Z member of Congress, to North Carolina's Anderson Clayton, the youngest state party chair, we want to show the far right that the majority of Gen Zers do not subscribe to their agenda. What’s more: We are joined by various champions for young people, including House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

While those at the summit hosted by Voters of Tomorrow range in age, background and political beliefs, we all agree our generation is stronger because we are diverse. Unlike the far right, Gen Z is committed to forming movements and political power based on love, inclusivity and acceptance.

After all, that’s the democracy we deserve. That’s the democracy Gen Z is building. Because that is Gen Z – whether the far right likes it or not.

Santiago Mayer

Santiago Mayer is the 21-year-old founder and executive director of Voters of Tomorrow, a nonpartisan organization that engages and represents Gen Z in politics and government.

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