It’s not enough to march, we must also vote

People cheer as community activist Necola Adams speaks during a “March for Our Lives” rally calling for stricter gun control laws at Courthouse Park in Merced on March 24.
People cheer as community activist Necola Adams speaks during a “March for Our Lives” rally calling for stricter gun control laws at Courthouse Park in Merced on March 24. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

The tragic shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February has led to a surge in activism among young people like us across the country. It was incredible to see millions of our friends and schoolmates show up at the nationwide March for Our Lives events this spring.

But the real test of our generation’s ability to bring safety and justice to our schools and communities might not be how many of us will show up at marches, but about how many will show up to vote.

The two of us are involved in organizations (RYSE and 99Rootz) that are part of the YVote network of youth and community groups working to empower young voters of color in California. We got involved for similar reasons. We have a desire to get more engaged our communities. We are passionate about organizing young people in Merced and West Contra Costa counties where we live and about getting other young people to speak up for their interests, both in school and in their communities.

With school and community safety as a rallying cry, many of our peers across the country are following a similar path to empowerment and activism.

We look around and we see more police and other efforts to “harden” our schools, yet we feel less safe. We see students of color disproportionately affected by suspensions, immigration enforcement and community violence. It’s time to make sure everybody can find dignity and safety – because it’s our right.

Adults have not been willing or able to step up and make solutions happen, so it’s our turn to try to shake things up. This is why we are marching and organizing. It’s why we are walking out of our schools. And it’s why we are developing leadership abilities, to create lasting change through electoral organizing and other activities.

The problems we see in our schools and communities are too important to wait another year, or another generation, to solve.

But to have a lasting impact, we need to exercise our voice and power at the ballot box. We are the largest and most diverse generation. In California, there are 4 million potential young voters. If we use our power, we can change how decisions are made and who makes them. We can bring about the change we want and make our communities better and safer for everyone.

Across California, members of the YVote network are working to empower young voters of color. We are registering peers and educating them about the issues facing our communities. In the last year, our network registered or pre-registered more than 25,000 young voters, and we have signed up more than 5,000 in the last month with the goal of 15,000 by the end of this month.

We are doing this because the future of our schools, our communities and our country is at stake. Young people will be tomorrow’s leaders, but we need to have a say in who represents us today. Our communities simply can’t afford more of the same old status quo.

In the past year, young people across the country have shown we have a voice. Now it’s time to show we have a vote. Join us by connecting with a YVote network organization near you.

Eugene Vang is a senior at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater and an organizer with 99Rootz. Jahiem Geovanni Jones is a freshman at Kennedy High School in Richmond and works as an intern with RYSE. They wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.