America is gearing up for another intensely debated presidential election and candidates have started throwing their hats in the ring.
Though it has been seven years, it’s clear the political landscape of the country was irrevocably changed by the 2016 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump’s election made it impossible to ignore the deep racial and cultural divides cutting through the nation.
Immediately after President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, he promised to unite the nation. However, voters and their representatives remain deeply divided on a number of vital issues. As more candidates announce their presidential campaigns, it’s integral to keep our priorities as young voters in mind.
Over the past few years, transgender rights have been overlooked or directly under attack. Policies regarding young trans people, especially in the education sphere, continue to be a source of contention between liberals and conservatives. Trump has only added fuel to the fire, vowing to put an end to gender-affirming care for minors across the nation if reelected president.
Another issue that will prove to be defining for our generation is climate change. Mitigation efforts remain insufficient; in order to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a goal deemed critical by the U.N., action must be taken in line with the urgency of the crisis. The U.S. needs to play its part in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, and so far, we don’t seem to be on track for our target of net zero by 2050.
Around the world, it is young people who have been taking critical action to guard our planet against the extreme weather events that threaten to become the new normal. As young voters, we must consider how presidential candidates’ proposed policies could shape our world’s future.
Labor issues should also be at the forefront of our minds. Compared to all workers, Gen Z employees are more likely to work multiple jobs, be concerned about the stability of their employment and report earning inadequate wages. We have seen the push for better pay and working conditions at Hopkins through Teachers and Researchers United’s fight for unionization, and we should learn how candidates will affect these rights in our own workplaces.
As countless headlines over the past several years have shown, gun violence is a national epidemic that consistently threatens the lives of young people in the U.S. Last year, a host of young candidates who campaigned on gun violence prevention won their elections, and we hope to see this trend continue into 2024.
Recently, the culture wars between liberals and conservatives have increasingly used public schools as a battleground. Critical race theory, which teaches that racism is systemic, has been targeted by bills introduced in dozens of states. Book bans are on the rise. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, expected to declare his 2024 presidential run in the coming months, made headlines earlier this year for rejecting the College Board’s new Advanced Placement African American Studies course, claiming that it lacks educational value.
Teachers, who have already shouldered the burdens of meager salaries and long hours, are now facing more pressure from politicians and angry parents, driving some of them to leave the field. Given the existing national teacher shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a pressing issue, and we should prioritize candidates who value educators.
Candidates’ support for mental health resources should also be a focus for young voters. In 2016, suicide replaced homicide as the second-leading cause of death for American teenagers. Teenage girls in particular are facing a mental health crisis, with 30% reporting they’ve seriously considered suicide. The Biden administration dedicated over $400 million in funding to call centers for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which went live last summer and connects suicidal individuals with mental health professionals. We need more representatives who will prioritize mental health resources for those in need.
Finally, young voters should take a stand in the battle for reproductive rights. Since Roe v. Wade’s overturn, politicians’ attempts to limit bodily autonomy haven’t ceased. Abortion restrictions disproportionately impact women of color and young women, who make up the majority of patients seeking abortions. As such, we should keep an eye on candidates’ plans for reproductive legislation.
Though the 2024 election is still a long way off, we should keep the significance of these issues in mind as more campaign announcements roll in. Advocacy should not be a biennial occurrence, however — we must advocate for ourselves and the issues we care about, not just at the polls but year-round on campus. Whether it’s joining an organization like Hopkins Votes or volunteering for a local grassroots movement, there are countless ways to get involved and use your voice beyond the ballot.
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