Empowering Young People, One Vote at a Time

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” For many of us, this quote from Mahatma Gandhi is a familiar concept, but for Juma Youth, it can be hard to figure out where to begin. From registering to vote to researching local candidates in down ballot races, to simply getting to the polls, participating in America’s democracy, especially as a first time voter, can be daunting. To curb some of those challenges, over the past several months Juma staff worked to provide learning opportunities for our youth on civic engagement and voting.

With election day on the horizon, Bay Area Program Coordinator Steven Cong focused Juma’s October programming on social justice and civic responsibility. Thanks to the transition to online programming, Juma youth from across the country were able to join in on a call with California Assemblymembers Phil Ting and Evan Low, former Senior Congressional Aid to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Alex Lazar, and Candidate for Santa Clara Schoolboard, Andrew Knaack. The panelists answered a wide range of questions from youth on topics like researching down ballot candidates, the importance of local elections, and how to get involved even if you’re not old enough to vote. 

“Some of the biggest hurdles we see for young people in San Francisco are knowing where to find their polling place and how to research candidates for down ballot races,” explained Steven. “We also had a lot of questions from youth about discerning real news from fake news.” A lesson Steven hoped young people would take away from the panel was how voting is about so much more than just the next President. “As important as that is, the things that have the most impact on our daily lives are who will be mayor, our city council members, assembly people, etc, as well as what propositions will pass or not” he explained. “Those roles and decisions impact our roads, schools, parks, and even Uber drivers’ rights. Researching the entire down ballot is crucial.”

While votes are still being counted, as of November 1st, nearly 10 million young people ages 18-29 had voted early or absentee in the 2020 Election. American civic engagement is at an all-time high. With more votes cast in this election than in any election prior, it’s safe to assume that many votes came from young voters who want to see their values reflected in their chosen leaders. In the future, Juma sites hope to grow and expand their curricula on voting and civic engagement so that Juma youth really can be the change they want to see, not only in their own lives, but in their communities.