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Column: The Supreme Court is waging war on young people

Young activists hold signs in support of affirmative action
Activists support affirmative action outside the Supreme Court in October. The justices struck down the use of race in college admissions last week.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
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The Supreme Court’s right-wing majority seems to be declaring war on young people.

In recent days alone, the court has halted affirmative action in colleges, derailed student loan debt forgiveness and approved discrimination against LGBTQ+ couples in certain cases. The conservative justices seem hellbent on making the country a more hostile place for Gen Z and millennials, the most diverse voters in terms of race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Many young people are wondering if they’ll ever be able to afford a house or a safe and comfortable life for themselves, let alone their children. They’re less inclined to have kids at all because of the high costs of living and other concerns. They see in the Supreme Court an older, mostly white and male cohort hoarding power in defiance of America’s shifting demographics.

Jean Guerrero

Opinion columnist at the
Los Angeles Times

But young people shouldn’t despair. While it might be tempting to unplug from politics and renounce the democratic process, voting in elections still offers a path for change. If Democrats secure a big enough majority in Congress, they could carry out reforms of the Supreme Court — such as term limits and court expansion — to rein in the outsize power of conservatives and defeat their campaign to send the country back decades.

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So far, Gen Z-ers in particular appear to have what it takes to persevere and reverse the march backward. They’re more politically engaged than millennials were at their age, and they’ve repeatedly turned Republicans’ attacks into fury and fuel. “Young people are tired, but we are also committed to making sure we’re the last generation that has to face this,” Santiago Mayer, a 21-year-old Mexican immigrant who founded the youth voter engagement nonprofit Voters of Tomorrow, told me.

Young people have reason to feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of bad news, but they’re also finding ways to avoid becoming paralyzed by apathy. Some find that activism and action is a psychological antidote to fear.

“Young people don’t have a choice but to walk in the footsteps of our grandparents and our great grandparents,” says Olivia Julianna, a 20-year-old queer Latina from Texas who has raised millions of dollars for social justice on social media. “We are going to have to march in the same way they did. We’re going to have to vote and fight for our rights in the same way they did.”

She’s urging people to vote in the 2024 elections, regardless of how disillusioned they feel. If more had voted in 2016, the Supreme Court wouldn’t have its stranglehold on civil rights. “I don’t think the system is broken in terms of people don’t have a voice,” she said. “It’s broken in terms of there’s so many people out there who choose not to use it. Your vote is your voice.”

The election of Donald Trump was a turning point for these young adults, akin to 9/11 for millennials. Gen Zers realized as kids that American exceptionalism was a lie.

April 3, 2023

But it takes work to convince people to exercise their civic duties if they’ve lost faith in the system, or if they never had faith in it.

First, people who are politically engaged have to venture outside of their ideological echo chambers. Rather than preaching to their choir of Twitter followers and close friends, they should be having in-person conversations with apolitical or semi-political people. For those conversations to work, they should be rooted in understanding and empathy rather than shaming.

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I recently had an encounter that gave me hope that this type of persuasion may not be as difficult as we imagine it to be. I was having dinner with a fellow millennial who expressed progressive values and who told me he doesn’t vote because he gets overwhelmed following politics. I told him I empathize — if my job as a journalist didn’t require me to stay up on current events, I said, I’d want to unplug more often as well.

I told him my reason for voting and staying engaged was to act on behalf of people who can’t vote, whose rights are under attack. By the end of the conversation, he said I’d changed his mind and that he was going to vote in 2024. I don’t know that he will, of course, but he seemed sincere in reconsidering his stance.

I’ve found that Gen Z-ers — who are caricatured as dogmatic but are well-versed in navigating diverse communities and negotiating differences — are unusually skilled at these conversations.

They’re shaping up to be a generation of practical swing voters.

Nov. 19, 2022

Mariah Allen, a 19-year-old Black student at Loyola Marymount University whom I’ve interviewed about Gen Z’s political leanings, has already been practicing respect-based discussions with her peers. “I’m not one for forcing opinions,” she said, adding that she prefers to ask people questions about their views if she doesn’t understand or agree.

She told me the Supreme Court’s decisions are unsettling, but they won’t cause her to sit on the sidelines. She’s just as motivated, if not more so, to vote and talk with others about the importance of voting. “Complacency is not an option,” she said, reflecting on the Black activists who paved the way for her to be able to exercise her right to vote in the first place.

Allen, who hopes to have kids someday, says she wants to be a part of a movement to build a country where children can grow up safely. The Supreme Court may not care about preserving the rights that matter to the youngest generation, but she does. It’s up to Gen Z and millennials to remake the government for the youth who are coming next.

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@jeanguerre

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