Young people need to vote. That’s not a radical statement for young people to hear — your favorite musician, actor, cousin, etc., has probably been saying the same for years.
But those in power can’t just demand that young people, people of color, and other neglected communities vote. We also need to have a conversation about the power in voting.
On the most basic level, people are working hard to suppress the vote. Suppression used to happen via bogus literacy tests and poll taxes employed to prevent Black citizens from voting in the South. These tactics have evolved into discriminatory tactics such as prohibiting incarcerated individuals from voting. Add a culture of calling “fake news” which has led to distrust of the media, and a global pandemic which has led to a constant sense of uncertainty and insecurity, and it could not be easier to dissuade someone from voting. But if your vote wasn’t important, if it wasn’t the first and most critical step to creating change in our neighborhoods and our nation, people afraid of your power wouldn’t work so hard to take it away from you.
You’ve beaten those obstacles before. Young people registered, organized, and voted in massive numbers in 2008 when Barack Obama was first on the ballot. Sixty-six percent of young Americans voted for Obama, making the gap between voters under 30 and over 30 larger than in any presidential election since 1972 (the first election with exit polling data). And ever since, both parties have recognized the importance of the youth vote.
The people choose who represents us at every level of government. It’s our job, on the ballot and in between elections, to make it clear how we feel about our representation. We should absolutely be marching in the streets and donating to causes — but these issues are also on the ballot. Go to any candidate’s website, whether president or attorney general or state representative, and you’ll see their stance on the issues that matter. This election cycle (and 2020 in general) has been defined by a public health crisis, an economic and jobs crisis, the climate crisis, a racial divide, and a gun violence epidemic.
We are in the middle of a moment. We decide what happens next.
Due to the pandemic, we’ve been given so many different ways to vote. If you like the traditional in-person Election Day, Nov. 3 is right around the corner. If Nov. 3 doesn’t work for you, Philadelphia has started Early Voting Centers, and you can go at your convenience. If you’d rather vote from home, you can request a mail-in ballot until Oct. 27. If you are unsure of voting by mail, you can drop it in a ballot drop box.
It has never been easier, safer, or more important to vote.
Young people of Philadelphia, you’ve got to vote. Not because your mom or a DJ or even a president tells you to, but because your voice matters. When you tweet about gun violence or climate change or a better remote learning experience, those issues are on the ballot.
Don’t get me wrong: Individual candidates have got to earn your vote. You shouldn’t vote for a person or a party because it is assumed that “they’ve got the youth vote” — your voice is too important for that. But we all need to show up to the table, engage in a thoughtful conversation, and make a decision based on the information we have. We need to push those in charge to understand that young people are not single-issue voters, but intelligent and complex. We need to reject the notion that we should do things “because that’s the way they’ve always done,” because our world is constantly changing.
Vote. It’s your voice and your seat at the table. None of us can change the conversation if we don’t speak up.
Isaiah Thomas is a councilmember at-large representing the entire city of Philadelphia. This is his first term on Philadelphia City Council. Isaiah lives in Oak Lane with his wife Klissa and their family. @CMThomasPHL