The Olds aren’t entirely wrong to worry about youth participation, but to say the kids are the problem misses the point. Discouragement is baked into the system: Voting is much more difficult than it should be, and, under the guise of fighting voter fraud, Republicans in some states are making it even harder for students and others to do so. Voters in 16 states face new restrictions in this election, the first since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Many millennials are too busy working a handful of shit-paying jobs to pay off debt or support their kids to get involved in campaigns. Citizens United and other gut punches to campaign finance laws send a message to young people that their voices don’t matter — why bother speaking when big money has the bull horn? And the candidates the most diverse generation in American history is asked to rally behind are still predominantly rich, white and male — pick any two out of three — though there are finally some exceptions. Young people are out there trying to patch up, or tear down, this rotten political structure, too.
In search of an apathy antidote, Rolling Stone talked to 16 of the millennials making a mark on the left side of the election.
Kelley Robinson, 30
Deputy National Organizing Director, Planned Parenthood Action Fund
A former cage fighter from the south side of Chicago, Kelley Robinson knows that a woman’s power depends on being in control of her own body. “My mom used to always say, ‘Take care of your spirit, take care of your hair, and take care of your body, ’cause those are the only things that we got.’ I think that’s real,” says Robinson. That’s what led her to the reproductive rights movement and to Planned Parenthood, which is fending off both the smear campaign launched last summer by a series of now-discredited undercover videos, and an onslaught of anti-choice legislation at the state level. As one of Planned Parenthood’s top political organizers, Robinson works to train and mobilize the group’s supporters not just to defend reproductive rights, but to expand them through proactive legislation.
Getting pro-choice candidates elected — including Hillary Clinton, whom Planned Parenthood endorsed early this year — is a major focus of her work this year. “We’re facing one of the most extreme slates of Republican candidates in my lifetime,” says Robinson, who also serves on the board of the reproductive justice collective SisterSong. Right now she’s putting together a massive event, scheduled for May, to train volunteer leaders for electoral work. It would be hard to fault Planned Parenthood’s supporters for feeling a bit beleaguered after so many attacks, but Robinson says they aren’t tired — they’re angry, and ready. Her job is to give them an “opportunity to feel our power, and develop the muscle memory around what it feels like to win.”
Charlene Carruthers, 30
National Director, Black Youth Project 100