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My name is Janice Mendez, and I am a Latinx Junior at Lakewood High School in Long Beach. Currently, I am a student leader at Californians for Justice. Recently, we launched a Voter Registration Drive in Long Beach and San Jose with the goal to register 600 new young voters. In Long Beach, we piloted it at Lakewood High School, Mcbride High School, and Cal State University Long Beach, where we helped students register to vote and informed them that now in California, sixteen-year-olds can pre-register to vote.
Millennials are now the biggest generation group in CA: 1 out 3 Californians is a Millennial. Of Millennials, 7 out of 10 are people of color, and over half are children of immigrants. Even though Millennials are the largest population group, only 8% of them actually vote. That’s why it was so important to begin registering and pre-registering young people to vote so that our voices and political power to transform our communities can also be felt at the ballot box.
One of the most memorable things that happened during the voter registration drive was when a peer expressed that they did not want to pre-register to vote because they did not want to get involved in politics. His remark was followed by a teacher chiming in and boldly explaining to them that they were already involved in politics by simply being present in a public education system. This was really eye-opening to me because it helped me realize that everything we do, and even everything we don’t do, is embedded in politics. One can’t simply avoid politics because by doing nothing, you are supporting the political system that’s in place.
Some of the challenges I faced during this process was seeing the disempowerment that has consistently been pushed on youth to believe that they cannot make a difference. I personally encountered many people who told me that they did not want to register to vote simply because their vote “doesn’t matter” or “doesn’t count for anything” so they would rather not waste their time. Despite the fact that we are the future leaders, a lot of young students are not as invested in politics, not because they don’t care, but because electoral campaigns overlook and undervalue young voters and as a result, neglect to learn from and connect with youth.
That is why as a leader with Californians for Justice, I became committed to getting more students engaged in our campaigns, getting them registered to vote, and joining our chapter club to become youth leaders themselves. This campaign was something that I am very passionate about because it’s important for today’s youth to get involved in our democracy. Young people do care about voting and the impact election outcomes have on our communities. I know this because our region’s goal to register 300 young voters was far surpassed. We registered 395 voters, bringing our statewide grand total to 638 registered and pre-registered voters!
I want our voter registration campaign to expand into all high schools in Long Beach Unified School District in the coming years and have thousands of young people register to vote each year across the state.
Students care about voting. The decisions made by a small percentage of registered voters affect us. This is our community, and we deserve a say. I ask our elected officials to take young voters into account even more. Speak to young voters, to their values, to what impacts them the most. Don’t ignore us and include us in your campaign and political platform. We will vote.