This post was originally published on Atlanta Voice

By Toni J. Watkins

As the dust settles and the nation celebrates – or grapples with – the fact that Georgia has secured Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, I am reminded that history has long been shaped and defined by youth and youth-led movements that challenge systemic oppression. Many times, these challenges changed, and arguably saved, the trajectory of this nation. Georgia’s most recent decision to re-elect Senator Raphael Warnock is no exception to that rule.  

This victory does, however, dispute the narrative that young people are unconcerned, uninvolved, and apathetic. The perpetuation of a tired and disproven rhetoric that suggests that the most influential voting block is disengaged, is yet another broken tactic of voter suppression meant to dissuade young people from the activism that comes quite naturally to them. Young people have demonstrated time and time again that they are not buying into the infantilization that says their opinions are less valid, and their activism is less impactful. They are concerned about their communities. They care about their futures. They care about their nation. They care about each other. 

Young people full of care and concern for their present and future are also full of righteous rage. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, student loan forgiveness waffling, no federal marijuana decriminalization laws passed, constant attacks on LGBTQ+ communities, and a litany of unfulfilled promises made in 2020, the disappointment and frustration with young voters was, and still is, palpable. Republicans and voter suppressionists went out of their way to make it significantly more difficult for their least likely voters to participate in the electoral process, a ploy that only enraged and fueled youth organizers and voters. Our job as organizers was not to create a moment of urgency, but instead, to move people’s conversations and protests from their homes and streets, and into the ballot box. 

Harnessing the frustration of voters and building upon the momentum created in 2020, with partners like the New Georgia Project, Protect the Vote, NARAL, Black Voters Matter and others, we hit streets, phones, doors, skating rinks, night clubs, churches, and wherever there were young people. Voter engagement organizers were there to talk to them about what was at stake and the responsibility that we had to protect our own communities. By going where young voters would organically gather, providing resources, and cultivating an attractive space to engage, we were able to create an audience to have these critical conversations. 

In large part, the voter mobilization campaign of URGE “It’s On Us” was a validation of past disappointments and a call to action to lessen those of the future. By telling the truth that no one individual, including Senator Warnock, could or would save us, but that we could save ourselves, one may argue that young people collectively saved the nation – once again. 

On the heels of the defeat of Stacey Abrams, Georgia voters were faced with a decision whether or not to elect a modern-day Manchurian candidate in Herschel Walker. It was clear that the GOP was not putting forth a serious contender, but instead, someone that would obediently follow the instructions of their leaders. Herschel Walker was a terrifying candidate that came dangerously close to winning the Senate seat. Senator Warnock’s defeat of Herschel Walker by a margin of only 96,612 votes out of over 3.5 million cast is an indictment of the State of Georgia. 

In large part, Georgia is not as progressive as we want to be, however, we do see that when young voters feel empowered, they become the progressive block that is defending our present and future. Early voting and absentee voter turnout among voters 18 – 24 was over 94,000 with turnout from ages 25 – 30 over 60,000. Simply put, without young voters progressives would not have secured a victory.  

Young voters continue to prove that they are indefatigable in their fight for a progressive state and nation. We understand the assignment, and not only are we voting, we are voting in our own best interests – not the best interests of the GOP that works tirelessly to hold onto the power they abuse. 

Young voters are not only the future, but they are also the present, and our nation is better for it in their defense of both. 

The post Toni J. Watkins: How Young People Saved Georgia appeared first on The Atlanta Voice.