Last November, Gen Z came out in droves to vote in the midterm elections. Dispelling all the old clichés about apathetic young voters, this generation proved that it’s an energized political force. The issues that matter most to teens in America have come to define local and national political agendas, and it’s now clear that anybody running for office in 2024 will have to reckon with the dreams and demands of young voters
First Gen Z consolidated political power, voting in droves for candidates that promised to address the issues it cares about most. Now it wants to see those officials act on their promises.
As we gear up for the 2024 presidential election — in which the oldest incumbent president in history appears ready to seek yet another term — young people have a laundry list of issues they will expect candidates from both parties to address.
One reason kids are the spark plug in our democracy is because they haven’t been broken down by years of partisan bickering and political calcification. They see issues as problems to solve, not as checkpoints on a party platform. In a recent Pew survey, 80 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 said they wished they had more political parties to choose from. For too many young Americans, the powers that be have simply ignored the problems they care about.
At Watch Us Rise, many of the kids and teens we’ve talked to see their issues as fundamentally bipartisan, or even pan-partisan: They want politicians on all sides of the political spectrum to address them.
This is hardly the first time young people have defined the political agenda, but this is the first time that these linchpin issues affect kids and teens more than any other age category. Reporter Chana Joffe-Walt put it well in a recent episode of the podcast, “This American Life,” when she said: “So many of the big, contentious political issues right now center around kids. Should teachers be allowed to teach about racism, history, sexuality? Will stricter gun laws keep our kids safe in school? Would more aggressive climate policies keep them safer in the future? Which ones? All these policy debates that we’ve been having for months, that are so central to American politics right now, affect kids more than anyone else.” And the political rise of Gen Z is not isolated to an American moment — teens across the globe are playing critical roles in democratic movements in places like Ukraine and Iran.
In this issue of Watch Us Rise, we asked kids and teens across the country to tell us what issues they want Americans to tackle this year. The resulting calls to action touch on topics including climate, mental health, economic opportunity, inequality, free speech, and democracy itself. In each, the authors are clear that they do not consider these problems to be Democratic or Republican opportunities, but American opportunities.