Nothing says more about a nation than how it treats its young people. In too many ways, our nation has detached itself from us: the future of this country. Here’s our reality: young people today will be worse off economically than previous generations. The wealth gap keeps widening. Affordable education is inaccessible. Healthcare is now a luxury. A well-paying job with a livable wage is increasingly a thing of the past. Young people have not known a time of peace in their lifetime – we were born into war and are still at war across the globe.
This sends a disturbing message for our generation that ultimately says that profit is more highly valued than human life. Too often, we glorify inhumane traits: greed, power, and hatred. These traits are used to systematically divide us, and keep us from uniting and claiming our power to shape the future of our communities.
This moment requires all of us to come together – across movements, communities, cultures, ages, and backgrounds – to build collective power. This is the same power that ignited the civil rights movement and continues to fuel youth and young adults across the country who become the guide in every crisis we overcome in America.
The time has come to reignite our energy and transform what is broken. For this reason, we remain hopeful, energized, and optimistic. We refuse to accept that inequality, division, and inaction are the norm. Instead, we know that the hour is darkest before dawn.
We cannot do this alone. Cross-movement momentum is built from the wisdom and guidance of older generations who walked so we could run. We must not let our history be in vain, as the pain we are feeling now will reverberate in time and affect us all, and future generations. The beauty of being an interconnected society is that we cannot ignore our pressure points.
We all feel the pain points of injustices that keep us from moving forward and building a nation that is not afraid to address its long history of economic exploitation of poor, working-class, and disadvantaged communities. We must acknowledge and correct our failures in order to build a more sustainable, more equitable future.
These strengths are ultimately what makes us who we are: a nation out of many, one. Diverse, but not divided. Challenged, but not hopeless. Called to act, and capable of doing so.
Young people who stand up and shape the direction of our country are the lifeline of our country. This is why our fight is also your fight. Will you join us in building a bright future for your loved ones?
To start moving in the right direction, we need to provide young people, families, and communities with basic needs. We must strengthen our families and communities by prioritizing affordable housing, healthcare, free and low-cost post-secondary education, well-paying jobs, and protecting workers. Many legislative bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate to enact these changes. All we’re missing is the political courage to demand this from our elected officials.
We also understand that public pressure alone is not enough. Until we shift the power structures in our government away from corporate interest to return power back to the people, it will be an uphill battle. Although great strides have been taken to give young people a seat at the table – through youth councils, public engagement, and meetings with members of the administration and Congress – these have not always been meaningful and operational. Youth and young adults with lived expertise and ideas still do not have clear lines to guide and influence the solutions and approaches our elected officials invest in. This is a devastating missed opportunity.
Frequently, we see that organizations and corporations have given young people positions that give the illusion of unity and equity. Too often, these roles lack real influence. As one of our youth perfectly stated, “For the sake of our future, we need to see real action. No more performative politics, virtual signaling, or corporate memos/letters, we need to see action.” Those in power rarely share it without some discomfort and adjustment. Understandably, there is a learning curve to giving young people a legitimate and functional voice and decision-making power. But the results, both historically and recently, speak for themselves. Youth representation and facilitation build better solutions. To successfully build America back stronger, young people must be at the decision-making table, sharing our own narratives and insights and clarifying who we are and what we care about.
Many proposals have been brought forth to do just that: #YouthinGov is calling for youth engagement across the federal government and the New Deal for Youth Changemakers have proposed the creation of a National Youth Congress to help assess the needs of youth and young adults and provide them an official seat in local, state, and federal government. These policy ideas can be scaled at the national and local levels and provide a direct pipeline of young leaders in advisory roles.
We cannot wait around for a hero to emerge and guide us all. Young people are our own heroes. We are hopeful changemakers seeking to build the future we need.
We need everyone. Please join us to ensure young people are not left behind and are guiding our nation’s recovery. Take the next step to start this conversation by signing and supporting this open letter to our country’s leaders. Then, join us on March 1st, as we lead the Youth Response to President Biden’s 2022 State of the Union Address and a day-long social media action through #YoungPeopleAddress.
Thank you for reading this. We appreciate your time and attention.
The young people behind Young People Address the Nation