Local teens and twentysomethings explain why they’re casting a ballot on Tuesday

Interviews conducted by Gary Walker and Christina Campodonico

Marketing and political campaigns are obsessed with reaching young audiences for good reason: demographic power. Young adults born between 1981 and 1996 (aka millennials) are expected to outnumber baby boomers next year, and the oldest members of Gen Z are already in their twenties. Whether you’re selling cars or running for Congress, the long-coveted 18-35 demo has become mission critical.

But if young people have taught their elders anything, it’s the folly of assuming people in any particular group will think, feel or act exactly alike. With national media obsessing over whether the youth vote will affect the balance of power in Washington, we asked politically engaged local young people about what’s motivating them to vote in the Nov. 6 election — particularly state and local issues, as the left-leaning Westside is about as far as you can get from a congressional swing district. This isn’t a scientific poll, so we don’t intended to suggest young people will turn out in greater numbers than before, as many pundits anticipate, or to suggest how they identify politically. (We avoided contacting groups directly associated with political parties, but a young Republican seems to be a rare find west of the 405.)

We hope that by allowing these young voters to express themselves in their own words and be seen through their own self-portraits (some cringed when we called them “selfies”), people of all ages might be inspired to participate in our democratic process come Tuesday.

Joseph Cruz, 19

West Los Angeles College student
Proposition 10, which would allow cities to expand rent controls, “that’s the one that sticks out to me the most. Much of the older generation own properties as assets to make a profit off of renters, while the vast majority of the younger generation don’t own properties because properties nowadays are too expensive to invest in compared to back then. So we are stuck renting apartments, studios, etc. from landowners in order to have a roof over our head. … I am really trying to convince my friends and family members to vote because our vote, the youth vote, really does matter, despite what most young adults claim.”


Alexa Benavente, 23

Director of Student Advocacy, Santa Monica College Associated Students
On opposing Proposition 6, which would repeal the gas tax: “It’s important for us to know where our tax money is going, but we’re worried about where our tax dollars are going without realizing that [the gas tax] goes for all of these important transportation projects. It’s also very good for the environment.”
On supporting Proposition 10, “As students many of us can’t afford to live in certain places, and many of us are worried about being able to buy a home someday. Prop. 10 would give people in my generation a chance to be able to live where we want.”


Fernando Villaseñor, 24

Manager of LA Vista Cleaners on Manchester Avenue; Culver City High School graduate
“If I vote in November this will be the first time that I’ve ever voted. When I was in high school I never really paid attention to local issues, and the school talked a lot more about things like blood drives than registering to vote. … A lot of my friends who are working are still living at home because of the
high rents, so Proposition 10 interests me, but I’m going to do my research about it first. … It’s tough nowadays to live on your own unless you’re making
a really large salary. It’s what almost all of my friends are talking about.”


Nicholas Falk, 18

Culver City High Debate Team captain; Culver-Palms YMCA Youth and Government Program member
“I think that voting is a fundamental part of being independent. Of course, it’s important to be civically engaged and to research your candidates, but I also think voting is going to have a unique personal impact on me. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that your vote doesn’t really matter, that your vote won’t make a difference in California. I think for me, voting is going to have an impact on my outlook on the world. Sure, one vote is not necessarily going to make a big difference … but I think it will definitely fuel my drive to be an independent thinker and to feel that I’m making important decisions. And frankly the thought of me not voting in 2018 is incomprehensible.”


Judith Castaneda, 19

Venice High alum; Venice Resistance voter registration volunteer
“I feel it’s my civic duty as a person living in this country. I understand that I can’t complain about the people in power if I’m not physically out there doing something to change who’s in power. There are big issues concerning youth specifically, and we need to make sure that the people in power understand that they need to help us out. Mainly the whole housing issue… That’s why I don’t live in Venice anymore, because rent got high. All my friends who grew up here but can’t afford to pay the high rents are having to move, and that really sucks because you’re taking the community away. … That makes me sad and a little bit frustrated.”


Sarah Wexler, 26

Web producer for Major League Baseball; Westchester High graduate
“When it comes to state issues, I’m particularly interested in the propositions related to housing: 1, 2, and especially 10. California’s current housing situation is untenable, with affordable housing in major metropolitan areas becoming increasingly hard to come by. That’s really going to affect people around my age and younger. Affordable housing should be a human right, as far as I’m concerned. … I’d be voting anyway, but the unrelenting attack on democracy being waged by the Republican Party by kowtowing to Trump’s totalitarian agenda and embracing oppressive ideology certainly motivates me to make my voice heard. … There’s definitely interest in voting among my peers. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on social media encouraging people to make sure they’re registered.”


Samantha Zinn, 22

Undergraduate research assistant at LMU’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles
“I love my congressman, Ted Lieu, so I’m really excited to vote for him. … I love how he interacts on Twitter. I respect him on climate change. What he did when [news of separated] children at the border in Texas broke, when he stood up and played a recording of what that sounded like, it was just so inspiring to watch. And that’s something I want to see in the congressman representing me. That’s why I want to vote for him again.”

 


Alden Lundy, 20

Undergraduate research assistant at LMU’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles
“I’m also excited to support Ted Lieu. Ted Lieu’s record on introducing bipartisan legislation, as well as being environmentally conscious in the decisions he’s made, have really made me respect him. And he’s also in the last couple years really taken an action against corruption that he’s seen since he got his seat. … What he’s doing is important. I think being critical of what’s happening in your government is an important part of the democratic process.”

 


Shani Hogan, 22

Loyola Marymount University student
“You have to vote, honestly, because America decided to make a mistake in the 2016 presidential election.If we flip the House back to Democratic … then we can get somewhere, or maybe just stop all the bad from happening. What would be nice is progress. What I will settle for at this point in time is to stop all the unraveling.”

 


Amanda Gorman, 20

Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States; Westchester native, New Roads alum
“It would be impossible, being raised by my mom, to not vote, because she really made sure to contextualize history for me … talking about the world that she grew up in, the world that my grandparents grew up in, and always making sure I knew what was at stake in every single election, on every single ballot. It’s historicized my duty. … Being an African-American woman, I exist with this very real understanding of people who came before me, fighting, giving their lives and putting their bodies in harm’s way so that people who looked like me, people who identified like me, could cast a ballot. It would be such a huge historical shame and erasure if I didn’t vote just because I’m feeling disillusioned, or I’m feeling despair. It’s very much a civic duty, a historical duty.”


Chloe Wilson, 23

Loyola Marymount University student
“I’m definitely voting. I think it’s now more important than ever because of the 2016 elections. … When the results came in it was like, ‘Oh, damn, did my voice really count?’ But I really do believe everyone should vote. I have a lot of friends who say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t really matter. We’re not the Electoral College.’ But if you really think about it, if you have enough people, it’s really going to make a difference. With everything that’s happening right now that leans towards taking away human rights, I want to bring back equality and everyone getting an equal chance.”


William Sherman, 17

Santa Monica High School senior and founder of the school’s Political Activism Club
“It seems that we’re in caught in a political climate where fiery rhetoric and incivility has become the new norm on both sides. Generally, I would consider myself a left-leaning independent. But this election season is different — right now, I’m a Democrat. There’s too much at stake not to be: the environment, Social Security, Medicaid, gun reform, the Russia investigation; the list goes on and on. I’m unhappy with plenty of Democratic representatives, but I’m even more unhappy with the sentiment seething out of the Oval Office, casting a dark shadow upon our nation. There needs to be a roadblock. In ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t align myself with a particular party, but these circumstances are anything but. I’m more than ready for a blue wave this November.”


Judd Wexler, 20

College student who attended Westchester schools
“Education has always been my main interest issue-wise, but right now I am more focused on the current state of Congress. I am concerned with how health care and reproductive, civil, and human rights are being managed. I agree with everyone else that voter turnout will be high in this age group, because we are tired of having decisions being made by those who do not have to deal with the repercussions later on.”

 


Sanna Legan, 18

Artist/activist; college student and New Roads School graduate
“Right now anger is our friend, not something we should shy away from. We must allow ourselves to think about the lives lost to gun violence, children who were held in cages, and every life that has been treated as less than human. It is them we have to fight for. As an 18-year-old, being able to vote is an honor that I cannot wait to take advantage of. … If you are not planning on voting this coming November, I ask you to think about those who are scared to exist
in this country. You can either use that power to make a difference or you can sit back and allow injustice after injustice.”


Khalih Sanders, 18

Loyola Marymount University student
“I’m voting because I think the youth voice needs to be heard, especially because we have so many adult voters and our generation feels like we don’t get heard as much. We definitely need to get our voices out there. … This past election there were a lot of adult voters and the younger vote was not being heard, especially because a lot of us hadn’t turned 18 yet. … So now that we can vote on the little things that matter, when the 2020 election comes around, we can definitely get our voices out there.”

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