Following the horror and chaos of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, young people across the nation saw something they didn’t expect. They saw survivors who looked like them — who could have been their high-school classmates — take control of a debate that was raging long before any of those protesters were born.
And they saw their peers joining the discussion — some echoing the Parkland shooting survivors’ calls for stricter gun controls, others offering thoughtful rebuttals defending the Second Amendment. It was a modern children’s crusade, and it clearly pierced the feelings of apathy, helplessness and insignificance that many young Americans feel.
The result was a surge in voter registration among young people. In Volusia County, 1,351 people under the age of 30 registered to vote in the two and half months after the Feb. 14 tragedy in Parkland — almost double the number that registered in the preceding two and a half months, The News-Journal’s Cassidy Alexander reports. The shift was more subdued in Flagler County but Elections Supervisor Kaiti Lenhart says she’s seen a substantial number of young new voters.
Elections officials still don’t know, however, how those newly registered voters will turn out in the 2018 midterms. A Pew Research analysis shows that by 2010, the numbers of eligible voters among younger generations — people born after 1965 — outstripped the population of Baby Boomers and their predecessors. But that younger cohort has never fully exercised its clout; in the 2014 midterms, “younger generations accounted for 53 percent of eligible voters but cast just 36 million votes — 21 million fewer” than Boomers and older voters, the report says. Younger voters participated more in the 2016 election, giving them a slight majority over older voters, but among the younger cohort, Gen X voters (who range as old as 52) outstripped Millennials (aged 20 to 37 this year).
Millennials could take control this year — if they turn out. Some indicators suggest they won’t. But the state’s youngest voters — those most likely to be moved to action by the Parkland shootings — have seen firsthand how a watershed event can ripple through the tiers of federal, state and local officials. They have seen mayors, county commissioners and state lawmakers stand with them at rallies across the state. And they have seen others make political hay from mocking the Stoneman Douglas students. This year, they watched the Florida Legislature scramble to bolster school security — at the expense of classroom funding.
If they were watching, and many were, these young voters were also being shown how decisions made at all levels of government could impact their own futures. Even before Parkland, young voters were keenly aware of the issues most important to them: Social and racial inequalities. Climate change and environmental decline. The push to create good jobs and strong communities to raise families of their own. Anger at the ever-growing burden of government debt — bills these young voters will someday have to pay.
These are all issues that resonate up and down the ballot. If younger voters don’t weigh in, they might have to live with consequences many find unacceptable.
In the post-Parkland activism, one moment stands out: 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez, in front of hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall and a TV audience of millions, fighting back sobs as she stood silent for more than three harrowing minutes — and then exhorting the crowd to “fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.” It was a rallying cry, and it was heard.
Young Americans take the first step when they register to vote. But the real fight is to show up — and raise their voice.
—The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Aug. 15, 2018