As the Presidential Election Looms, Young Voters Look Local

Anabelle DolinerBy Anabelle Doliner      August 21, 2020

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As the Presidential Election Looms, Young Voters Look Local
Twenty-one-year-old Polly Pierone was born in LA—but until a few months ago, she hadn’t paid much attention to her city’s local politics. Growing up, she told me she preferred to focus on political issues at the national level. Now, however, she attends protests, phone banks, and works with grassroots organizations to work toward progressive change at the city and county levels. “I’m passionate about decarceration and defunding the police [in LA], and have been participating in virtual actions three times a week.” What changed? Pierone is just one example of the many young people who, in the wake of Covid-19 and the national uprisings for Black Lives Matter, have become increasingly politically mobile. In the Los Angeles’ youth population, specifically, many are engaging with politics and activism in a way that emphasizes and advocates for policy changes within their own communities, neighborhoods, and districts. Some members of older generations, however, fear that this focus on the local level means that young people aren’t invested in issues at the national scale—the November presidential election, most obviously. Fears abound that apathy and a lack of enthusiasm for Biden among young voters might contribute to Trump’s reelection. Pierone, however, is quick to call that categorization a “misconception.” “I’m definitely going to vote for Joe Biden,” she says, “[and] I will be mad if any of my peers don’t vote in the election, because the stakes are very high.” She points out, though, that living in a blue district, in a blue city, in a blue state, makes campaigning for Biden feel like less of a priority. Rather, it’s “important to recognize injustice in [her] own community.” Furthermore, “[Biden’s] campaign right now isn’t aligned” with the issues she is most invested in. Another young LA activist and recent college graduate who asked to remain anonymous, feels similarly. “My sentiment is that I will vote for Biden, but I don’t support a lot of his policies/ideology,” she says. She and her friends hoped that his VP pick would lean further left with a candidate like Stacey Abrams or Elizabeth Warren. Pierone also speaks to the growing frustration she feels with electoral politics, and senses that many of her peers share the sentiment. Simply put, she says, “The state of national politics...has made me pretty cynical.” Another young activist I spoke to, Beeta Golshani, echoes Pierone’s feelings. She points out that “this election along with the pandemic has radicalized more people in the past few months than the past four years.” She continues: “I think all young progressives can agree that no one wants another four years of Trump and that almost anyone would be better, but that shouldn’t mean settling for a candidate because of party affiliation. It’s time people start criticizing politicians on policy, not party.” For many, participating in local, grassroots movements, feels like an antidote to the inefficiencies, corruptions, and frustrations of electoral politics. It’s important to note that this local activism is not new: grassroots movements in Los Angeles, led by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) activists and organizations like Black Lives Matter, have been working on these same local issues for decades. However, the number of young people who are joining in, often for the first time, is notable, especially with such a high-stakes, high-profile presidential election looming. One longtime activist I spoke to cited a specific example where they found this recent surge in participation most notable. Weekly Black Lives Matter protests against California District Attorney Jackie Lacey, have been ongoing for two years. Prior to these past few months, a good turnout at one of these protests might have been 50 people, but a video from June 2020 shows thousands of protestors, most of them young, gathered in Downtown LA, expressing their anger and demanding change. The young people I spoke to all agreed that, at this moment, turning to local issues feels like the most tangible, concrete, and effective method of achieving political change. As Golshani put it, “Young people are seeing that putting hope in a national campaign that works from the top down rather than bottom up... leads to monumental disappointment. Optimism lies in grassroots and local organizing.” No one is ignoring the election, most of all not young people. Rather, we are reacting to the failures of electoral politics. And, if we can push for progressive change at the local level, maybe our efforts will be recognized by the political establishment. “I hope this local work can help shape the national platform,” says Pierone
Anabelle Doliner

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