Unprecedented Times: Here’s How 7 Gen-Zers Feel about the Upcoming 2024 Election
From Pennsylvania, to Wisconsin, to Michigan, young people growing up in the US bring a unique perspective to the 2024 Election.
From coast to coast and everywhere in between, the 2023 class of interns at COURIER grew up facing a unique political environment in their respective home states. But despite these different experiences, there are two themes every intern could agree on ahead of the 2024 Presidential election: hope and a desire for change. This is what our seven Gen Z interns have to say about growing up in these ‘unprecedented times’ and what it’s meant for them.
“Growing up in a battleground state didn’t leave room for me to be politically complacent. The ebb and flow of democracy can feel frustrating sometimes, but is also something we are incredibly lucky to have in this country. The political diversity in my state makes us a more interesting place where ideas are created and debated, but also leads to a great deal of inaction and gridlock, just like politics at the national level.
Before 2020, I didn’t know many other people my age that cared about politics. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything changed. Thanks to the Internet, Gen Z made their voices heard that summer, protesting and fighting for change in a time where our youth felt stripped away from us. We came out swinging for the 2020 Election, turning out in historically high numbers. It was a moment where it felt like we truly had the power and were actually making people listen to us.
Now I’m 20 years old and studying political science in college, and I’m starting to feel worn out. Heading into the 2024 Election, young people don’t feel that same excitement that we felt in 2020. Action on issues that we care about, like climate change and gun regulation have received little to no attention. We’ve seen gay marriage get legalized, and trans rights rolled back. We grew up with Roe as settled law, and saw it repealed. And older generations tell us we are the future, yet simultaneously tell us that we are naive or asking for too much.
Heading into 2024, candidates will need to earn the youth vote. We will be an even larger voting bloc than in 2020, and our power won’t be denied. We demand change, and it is not enough to just be the alternative— we need real action. Democracy is worth fighting for, and America is worth fighting for. I refuse to abandon ship when so much is at stake, and will continue to amplify the voices of my generation.”
Toni, North Carolina
“My political development truly began with the tumultuous era of 2016. From the controversial anti-trans bathroom bill (HB2) to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott – an unarmed Black man in Charlotte, I saw bigotry and injustice slowly unsheathe before my eyes in North Carolina. Donald Trump’s election was the exclamation point.
I vividly remember the morning following Trump’s victory as a freshman in high school in North Carolina. While some students cheered in celebration of the election results, others sobbed in absolute despair over the fate of the nation. During that election cycle, I realized that the America that I hoped and longed for – one that would champion tolerance, equity, and social justice – may not have been a vision shared by all. What scared me most with my realization was that it seemed to be a dead-end. How do you reconcile starkly different visions of a nation? Can you?
My political journey thus far has been trying to grapple with this question. Affinity and social justice spaces were my first attempts at answer-searching. My knowledge of American history and politics grew and blossomed. But as my knowledge grew so did my pessimism, and I feared the implications of another election in 2020. I feared that America would once again delude itself into thinking that 2016 was an anomaly. That Trump wasn’t symptomatic of a larger problem.
Since the last election, I’ve been struggling between feelings of hope and feelings of political apathy. On the one hand, I am hopeful of change. On the other hand, I can’t foresee it.
From book-bannings to anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion laws growing in state legislatures, to inceldom and far-right rhetoric being repackaged on all confines of the internet, I get a bad feeling that I’m watching history repeat itself. On the other hand, I see people coming together in outrage of these developments. I see social justice becoming of importance once again in the lives of young people. I see Gen-Z getting older and voting more.
All this regressive pushback could simply be a sign of the change we’ve been waiting for. And for that I can be a teeny-weeny bit hopeful.”
“I did not grow up in Wisconsin, but it was the first state I voted in. Coming from Minnesota, where our elections tend to favor my personal political leanings, my generation’s calls for change felt important but distant. But even more discouraging was the constant rhetoric surrounding younger generations like my own.
Attending college in Wisconsin, Minnesota’s more politically divisive neighbor, made me realize how much sway young voters like me can have.
This year’s midterm elections were some of the closest in Wisconsin, and for the first time in my life, I was a part of the group that would decide the future of our state — young voters. But even more empowering for me was how my generation turned out in Wisconsin’s latest election this spring.
Even though spring elections have notoriously low participation, this year’s battle for control over the state Supreme Court brought youth to the polls like never before. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Wisconsin has been a national battleground over the right to abortion. The election of liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz was a turning point for this fight — and it was in many ways thanks to my generation choosing to make their voices heard.
I really noticed this shift in my generation in 2020. The pandemic, the January 6 insurrection, increasingly apparent police brutality, and worsening signs of climate change pushed Gen Z to a breaking point. Young people have always vocalized their desire for change, but 2020 felt like the first time that we demanded it.
I grew up hearing that the youth is notorious for low turnouts at the polls. Young generations have always been portrayed as disinterested and disconnected from politics. But studying political science and international studies in college with my colleagues, I have seen the opposite. I’ve found that the more I learn, the more invested I am in our government, our future, and our impact. My generation has always cared about our future, and now, we are forcing the world to listen.”
“As a child, I had the privilege of growing up in a small community. I was surrounded by some of the most caring and supportive people I have ever known. The town had a strong sense of community and celebrated each other’s successes. Although the community was close-knit, members lacked open mindedness.
I grew up in a family that was vocal about politics and their beliefs. From a young age, I was encouraged to be aware of what’s happening in the world and to form my own opinions.
As I grew older, I became more outspoken in my beliefs, but I quickly learned my ideologies weren’t respected in my community. Few of my classmates shared my feelings and I often found myself in the minority when discussing political topics. I was met with criticism and pushback, which made me feel unwelcome.
The 2016 presidential election was disheartening. It hurt to see issues I cared deeply about not being addressed or made light of. During this time, I felt like my opinions were dismissed and not taken seriously. I felt like I had no control over my future and my voice wasn’t heard.
It wasn’t until the Women’s March of 2016 where I felt like my voice was heard. With 1.2 million people standing around me, fighting for their rights and beliefs, I felt like I had the power to change not only mine, but my generation’s future.
The march served as a powerful reminder that our voices can be heard and that our generation can make a difference.”
“I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, the sprawling suburb of Washington, D.C. We in NoVA live in a sort of “Federal Bubble.” Politics and government were everything, considering such a great number of my classmates’ families were involved in either in some way. I grew up expecting that every person I meet would feel just as strongly about their own opinions as I did mine — which is why, when I moved to Richmond, I was surprised to find how much apathy there was around voting and politics in people my age. I watched classmates let the 2020 presidential election wash right over them, then the same with our 2021 gubernatorial election. I questioned how they could care so little about our government when voting was such an easy thing to do.
But, then again, I understand just as well as they do how exhausting it is to be Gen Z.
It’s exhausting being told that we’re the ones who have to “fix” the world we were born into. It’s too easy to slip into a state of complacency, because why should it be our job? Is it our fault the ice caps are melting? Are we the ones who voted for a president who would set such disturbing precedents? If this is not our mess, then why are we expected to clean it up?
To love something is to want it to be the best that it can be, and that’s how I feel about my state and my country. I love being a Virginian and an American, and I want them both to be places where everyone can exist safely and happily. So many other members of our generation agree, so we’re putting in the work for those who can’t. As frustrating as it can be, such is the way of the world that it’s every new generation’s responsibility to use the knowledge we’ve gained to take the reins. Gen Z is ready to vote like our lives depend on it, because they do.”
“Growing up in a Pakistani family that was always discussing politics back home, politics was no foreign concept to me. However, American politics seemed like a game to never play, as my family and community discussed the negative impacts of American domestic and foreign policy on Pakistan’s residents and even Muslims within the United States.
Having been born and raised in Michigan, I grew up not interested in politics, until the fateful 2018 midterms took place. When I saw Rashida Tlaib take office in Detroit, my life was forever changed, as I witnessed the passion she held for her community and how that passion carried into her work everyday. When I saw the negative comments on her social media platforms, I was reminded of the negative stereotypes and blatant Islamophobia that is rampant in our society. But what was surprising was the way Rashida and others like Ilhan Omar handled it, not letting it stop them from making good and necessary change. I saw a glimmer of hope for people like me to be involved in these spaces, with a path forging in my mind to better the world and reform the systems that continue to harm communities like mine.
It wasn’t until 2020, when the world was forever changed, that this path came to light for me, where I fueled my passion for making necessary change into action. Pakistan being one of the main countries to be impacted by climate change in the future fueled my passion for climate justice, whilst seeing my worn out peers and their dissatisfaction with the government fueling my passion for youth voter engagement and civic activism. Although the fight was hard, the significant rise in youth voting in 2020 motivated me to keep going, seeing that the work I was doing was having a strong impact.
Even during unprecedented times like COVID-19, my generation continues to rise up to the challenge of justice and equity for all, and I seek to use my voice and my background to benefit marginalized communities domestically and globally. It starts with a vote, a vote that can transform policies and shift movements. It may not be easy to do, but it sure is worth it.”
“Ever since I was a little girl, my mom has taken me with her to vote. She never showed me her ballot, never told me who she was voting for, or talked very much about politics at all. The one thing she consistently did, however, was vote in every single election—and remind us that in the purple state of Iowa, every last vote counts.
It wasn’t until I was 14 or 15 that I truly understood my parent’s political beliefs, and who they were really voting for over the years. Unbeknownst to me, my parents were conservative—but not for long.
At 19 years old, I have seen ideologies shift within my family and myself as the U.S. political landscape has dramatically changed within the last decade. Having voted in just one election, and now quickly approaching my first presidential election, I have watched how growing up in a conservative, yet impartial, household has shaped me to be a Gen-Z voter, student, and journalist.
Something in the country shifted on February 14, 2018, the day a gunman opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and staff. I remember watching events unfold halfway across the country in Iowa; I watched the students say on the news that “enough is enough,” and “never again,” calling the nation to stand up. And despite my parent’s politics, they supported me as I took my first trip to Washington D.C. to protest the grotesque gun laws in this country with March For Our Lives.
Following the protest, my generation watched the country change dramatically; we experienced a global pandemic, the January 6 insurrections at the capitol, the Black Lives Matter movement, a growing labor movement, and a climate change crisis. It’s impossible not to stand up and speak out.“
Even in a sea of cynicism and misinformation, change is possible, and it’s now Gen-Z’s turn to steer the ship.