In 2008 political engagement outside of turning out to vote was high for young people, Applied Research Center’s  2012 research “Millennials, Activism and Race” said. Many young voters were doing campaigning and volunteer work for presidential candidates; but in 2012, the study explains, young voter enthusiasm decreased. In the 2016 presidential election the decrease in enthusiasm for the presidential candidates was still there. Western Kentucky University’s Assistant Professor of African American Studies, Dr. Andrew Rosa believes enthusiasm within young people decreased this electoral year because the Republican nor Democratic party is saying what young people want to hear.

“The Democratic Party and Republican Party really isn’t an option for them,” Rosa said. “When Bernie Sanders fell out of the race many people couldn’t hitch their wagons to Clinton or Trump.”

Reason-Rupe Spring 2014 Millennials Survey  found that more young people are increasingly denying both major parties. “Millennials don’t trust either of the two political parties, but see Democrats as the better of the two bad options,” the survey states in its key findings.

Young North Carolina Activist Elanara Mendoza is one of those young people who couldn’t hitch her wagon to either political party. Mendoza wants to feel genuine concern from candidates and instead she feels that politicians are “pandering young people” to obtain a vote. Young people are finding other ways to become engaged politically and still challenge the system, Mendoza said.

“We’re rejecting electoral politics, we’re rejecting the system and we’re moving more left,” she said.

As part of my research on young people and their engagement in politics I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet members of Reproductive Justice and Charlotte Uprising to see how social activism has influenced their political lives. Both of these organizations are activist groups that have young leaders at the forefront of their organizations pushing political ideas, voter registration efforts, and mobilization of young people of minority or marginalized groups.

Charlotte Uprising: According to their homepage Charlotte Uprising is an alliance of community members, state and local representatives, coming together to protect their communities. They advocate for police accountability and economic and social equity

Elanara Mendoza, 16, Charlotte Uprising Core Organizer

Mendoza is an activist who is fighting for the equality of people in her community. She is focused on ensuring that black and brown people are given the education, resources and justice they deserve.

“We’re all about getting young people engaged, and to not write off poor black and brown youth as intellectually lazy or inherently stupid as if we don’t know about politics,” she said. “Just being black is a political statement.”

Mendoza considers herself politically savvy and thinks she is one of the helping factors in making society equitable for all. But she was a product of her parents who are both activists. That is one reason she decided to become a full-time activist at an early age.

Research conducted in 2012 by the Applied Research Center, entitled Millennials, Activism and Race shows that people of color more than half of the time are motivated to engage socially because of their family and home lives.

Mendoza at an early age heard the stories of her father being shot by a police officer, and that is what she says gave her a strong connection to be a part of a social activist movement.

Outside of advocating for change in her community Mendoza also sees the importance of young people voting in presidential elections. Mendoza campaigned for Bernie Sanders for a short while, before he did things that conflicted with her religious beliefs. Yet, she thinks that voting for some young people is the first step into the political realm. Whether young people vote or don’t, she believes being socially active is a political statement within itself.

SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective: SisterSong is a network of women who are advocating for the rights of women’s bodies by fighting for reproductive justice and human rights. The focus is on women of color and indigenous women. The group reaches women through grassroot, academic, social and artistic efforts. The aim is to give women a voice and awareness. The organization began in 1997, according to their homepage.  

Stephanie Alvarado, 30, SisterSong Artist United Reproductive Justice Organizer

Alvarado is originally from the Bronx, New York. There she began to do activism work at the age of 12, she said. She began organizing and advocating for young people and it consumed her lifestyle, she said. She has done artistic work with children with Autism, and reaching people through the arts is one things she does through SisterSong.

Though Alvarado is one year older than the Millennial as defined by the Center of Information and Research of Civic Learning (CIRCLE), she still identifies with the benefits social activism has on young people and potential voters because of her early involvement.


Justina Trim, 23, Membership & Program Coordinator of SisterSong

Trim, unlike Alvarado, wasn’t looking to be a part of the SisterSong movement intentionally, but being a part of this social activist group made her become more enthused about politics and the things within her community, she said.

“Being there I just realized how important it is to mobilize women of color and educate our people about what’s going on,” she said.

Inspiration from others within the organization has allowed Trim to think of ideas of her own to continue to propel the political statement of SisterSong. Trim believes as a “millennial” working in SisterSong she can bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the table on how to engage young women, she said.

Trim has a strong belief that the establishment of social activism movements combat the misconception of young people not caring about the world in which they live.


–Shantel Pettway