Now, more than ever, young people are recognizing their power to determine who we elect. The evidence is in the numbers: nearly 70 million young people are eligible to vote this year. And we’re not just “able” to vote—we’re registering to vote in record-breaking numbers. As a member of NextGen Florida, a historic youth organizing program, I’ve worked alongside my fellow organizers to register more than 50,000 young Floridians to vote this year. On Nov. 6, we’re going to turn out in record numbers to make changes in our state and in our country.
The day I moved to Jacksonville, I realized that this city has long been plagued by racism, disenfranchisement and segregation. At the center of Hemming Park Downtown, there is still a 62-foot statue praising a Confederate soldier who fought for slavery instead of against it. That statue was erected in 1898, when 57 percent of Jacksonville’s population were people of color. It was put up by the people in power to send a message of hate. In that same park, in 1919, two black men were brutally murdered by a white mob.
While tabling on college campuses and knocking on doors on both sides of the Mathews Bridge, I have seen even more of the destruction that racial injustice has brought here. Our horrific past reigns over this city, and Martin Luther King Boulevard still serves as a clear divide between the well-off and the forgotten. People of color make up 30 percent of Jacksonville, but integration between black and white communities is hardly any better now than during the Jim Crow era. There are devastatingly large pockets of homelessness, run-down neighborhoods, and a real need for caring leadership here in Florida.
Despite this injustice, we can make the changes needed to start rebuilding our marginalized communities. To empower everyone, we can open more early voting locations, extend their hours of operation, and give voters information about when and where to vote. We can all get involved in changing the system by talking to our neighbors about the progressive candidates who will fight to raise the minimum wage, give former felons a second chance, and invest more in public schools.
Andrew Gillum has vowed to do all that and more. The gubernatorial candidate promises to continue fighting for gun safety so that we don’t have to fear for our lives when we eat at The Landing or attend a football game at the stadium. He is going to push Medicaid Expansion forward so that hundreds of thousands of working Floridians can gain access to affordable healthcare. Gillum is a fierce advocate for the issues that young people care deeply about, and I know that he will build a better future for us.
Next week, we all have the ability to make an impact, to show every Floridian that their voice matters. On a personal note, I am voting in memory of the three transgender women who have been murdered in Jacksonville this year alone. I am voting for the 1.4 million felons who have served their time, yet still do not have a say in their own futures. I am voting for representatives who are running to bring equal opportunity to all of Jacksonville’s residents.
Lastly, I am voting for Andrew Gillum, so that this city, which has been greatly divided, can finally see what true unity looks like.
Now is the time for all of us—especially young Floridians—to make a difference.
There is a hunger and enthusiasm for better leaders in this country, and it is not happening just in Jacksonville’s Westside neighborhood. It’s happening on streets and in schools all across this state and all across our nation. In 2018, we are fighting for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It has been quite a few years since that statement was famously uttered by President Abraham Lincoln, but it’s an ideal we still strive to realize. There is nothing more powerful than our power, and on Nov. 6, thousands of young people all across the state will vote for representatives who look like us, talk like us, and believe in us.