'In years to come, people will look at 2018 as the beginning of a political fightback amongst young people in the West. We’re taking back control…of our futures.'

The US mid-term results are just the start of youth’s revenge

Jason Arthur and Lara Spirit

Jason Arthur and Lara Spirit on how young people have become politically engaged

09 November 2018 08:20

This week’s United States mid-term elections were notable for a number of reasons. The impassioned and incendiary rhetoric of Donald Trump around immigration; the record number of diverse women candidates and newly elected political leaders; and the new and different forms of political campaigning on show – led by and for young people.

Yesterday, it was announced that youth turnout in the US was highest for a mid-term election in over a quarter of a century. This has been a long time coming. 2016 was the year of disappointment for young people and students across the West. The overwhelming majority of us voted for both Hillary Clinton and to Remain in the European Union. We were out-gunned and out-voted in both, by older people who showed up in almost record numbers to give us futures we actively did not choose.

Both in the UK and across the pond, young people haven’t just got mad; we got organised. While full statistics won’t be available until the dust has settled, early voting among 18-29-year-olds was up sevenfold in some states. Young people are fuming – and they’re channelling their fury into democratic participation. Post-Brexit and post-Trump, so-called ‘devastated pessimists’ have turned into angry activists, with clout. Those congressman and women who still support the NRA, in the face of furious young people campaigning against gun violence, know how this feels.

Through new models of distributed responsibility – a combination of data driven, old fashioned door knocking, technological solutions, and no small investment of time and energy – young people got to the polls. The same thing is happening in the United Kingdom right now. In near-unprecedented scenes, young people and students across the UK – through groups such as For our Future’s Sake and Our Future Our Choice – are organising in their thousands for a People’s Vote on the Brexit Deal.

Young people haven’t just got mad; we got organised.

Youth political activity is sky-high. That much is clear from the campaigns that we run; from students’ unions to local schools, from coffee shops to pubs and bars, we’re engaging and participating in politics.

This generation of politically active young people value diversity and experiences far more than previous generations. Historic victories at the mid-terms – like the success of America’s youngest ever congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at 29 years old; America’s first ever openly gay Governor, Jared Polis; Native-American Congressperson, Deb Haaland; and Muslim-American Congresspeople Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – show this. Since 2014 alone, there has been a staggering 42% increase in candidates who are women of colour.

The dynamic campaigners we, at OFOC and FFS, work with are no different. From Hull to the Highlands and Islands, Jewish and Muslim activists are working with women of colour and white, LGBTQ+, working class men. Young people aren’t happy with middle aged, middle-class white straight men speaking on behalf of the rest of the population anymore.

This generation of politically active young people value diversity and experiences far more than previous generations.

And the age of top down campaigning functions is over. Candidates like Beto O’Rourke – who came within three points of beating Ted Cruz, in deep red Texas – have shown innovative ways of driving engagement. He raised tens of millions without PACs, and his digital strategy meant that the O’Rourke campaign knocked on 2.8 million doors and made more than 20 million calls to voters.

FFS and OFOC are built the same way. Using new power models of campaigning, we give structure and support, not direction. We give our young campaigners tools, rather than orders. Following models like O’Rourke’s, we give people leadership and ownership to steer our campaign’s direction and media output. It means we stay engaged, fresh, and dare to say things others won’t.

In years to come, people will look at 2018 as the beginning of a political fightback amongst young people in the West. We’re taking back control…of our futures.

Jason Arthur is the co-founder of For our Future’s Sake and Lara Spirit is Co-President of Our Future Our Choice

'In years to come, people will look at 2018 as the beginning of a political fightback amongst young people in the West. We’re taking back control…of our futures.'