Written by Eve Levenson
Young people and women are the key to saving democracy. That’s the takeaway from the 2022 midterm elections and what we can expect looking toward the 2024 presidential race. These groups are demanding change on critical issues including reproductive choice, student debt, the climate crisis and more. While this is a point commonly raised by pundits, the importance of one group in particular often goes unmentioned: Generation Z women.
The midterms saw the second-highest level of youth turnout in three decades, with at least 27 percent of eighteen to twenty-nine-year-olds turning out to vote nationwide. Historically, the rate has hovered around 20 percent. The turnout rate was even higher in swing states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. According to data from Tufts University, it was Gen Z women—particularly women of color along with a distinct majority of all LGBTQ+ youth—who were the deciding factor in close Congressional races. In Pennsylvania and Arizona, the Gen Z vote exceeded 70 percent.
As a politically-engaged Gen Z organizer, I’m confident these numbers aren’t an anomaly but an indicator of my generation’s electoral power moving forward. The next presidential election is just around the corner and there will be even more Gen Z women old enough to vote.
Over the last year, I saw firsthand the galvanizing effect that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade had on young women and all people who can get pregnant. The Dobbs decision may not have come as a complete shock, but that did not change the visceral reaction I and many of my Gen Z friends and colleagues had when it was announced.
After the Dobbs decision was leaked, I led a protest outside of the Supreme Court with IGNITE, Generation Ratify, Voters of Tomorrow, Gen-Z for Change and dozens of other organizations. In less than seventy-two hours, we brought together more than 1,000 young protesters in the middle of finals week. The energy that day was powerful and inspiring. Young people came together to mourn the fall of Roe, find solace in community and recommit to the fight for bodily autonomy and choice.
As protests around the country and voter registrations both spiked, it was clear that young women were leading such efforts. Why? Because young women and all people who can become pregnant had the most to lose, and we knew it. Tellingly, Donald Trump himself recently blamed Republicans’ disappointing midterm performance on the party’s mishandling of Roe.
Thanks in large part to this kind of focused energy, we saw several Gen Z candidates win races in the midterm election cycle. One is Maxwell Frost, my friend and former March For Our Lives colleague, and the first Gen Zer to join Congress. But several young women trained by IGNITE also won seats, including Munira Abdullahi, who became the first Somali-American elected to the Ohio legislature, Mary Black in Raleigh, North Carolina, who won a city council seat and Kristen Gonzalez, who won a state senate seat in New York. They are each holding different offices in different cities, but are united by a desire to work on behalf of reproductive rights.
Research shows that young women were more likely to prioritize abortion in our decisions to vote and who to vote for. Exit polling says that young voters “were the only age group to cite abortion as #1 priority…but young women, who are often more directly impacted by abortion restrictions, ranked it as a higher priority: 56 percent compared to 36 percent for young men.”
Fifteen million people will turn eighteen by the 2024 presidential election so young women are on track to cast the deciding votes in hundreds of races to come, it is crucial that we are credited. As a youth organizer, I am ecstatic to see young people as a whole being lifted up, and I’m excited to see so many of my male colleagues elevated. But, candidates, pundits and the media need to do a better job of specifically recognizing the voices of young women and nonbinary organizers. Because we are the linchpin of progress.
This column was produced by Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.
Eve Levenson is a 23-year-old youth organizer and IGNITE Alum.