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Although youth voter participation increased by 11% between the 2016 and 2020 elections, many young people still face a range of systemic barriers – from voter suppression to spotty civics education – that prevent them from casting their vote.
Everyday Activist – a project launched by Rise, BallotReady, and Black Youth Vote – is working to dismantle these barriers and mobilize seven million young voters by 2024. The project will focus on improving civic education technology and investment in youth-led organizations. It was recently named a Lever for Change Stronger Democracy Awardee.
Maxwell Lubin, CEO of Rise, Inc., discusses the project and shares advice for donors.
What inspired you to launch the Everyday Activist project?
Our democracy is in crisis, and young people want to be a part of the solution. But the lack of investment in civic education and outreach towards young people – coupled with economic challenges like the crippling cost of college – prevents so many youth from participating. Everyday Activist is about creating a new coalition and structure that channels young people’s energy and enthusiasm into the force needed to strengthen our democracy.
The project focuses on scaling peer-led youth civic education and mobilization efforts. Why are you focused on young people to strengthen democracy?
Young people are our most pro-democracy generation by far. The research is clear that they are the people most likely to support reforms that encourage democratic participation and voting access, and most likely to reject corrosive ideas like the lie that the 2020 election was “stolen.”
But they’re also ignored by most campaigns and civic organizations. Folks hold onto the myth that young people are apathetic, and haven’t noticed the historic increases in youth participation in recent elections. Our project is a moonshot to invest in the power of young people using old-school organizing and innovative technology to be a central force in our democracy. By addressing the structural forces that hold back youth civic participation, we’re unleashing the talent and potential of a new generation to lead change in our democracy.
What results do you hope to achieve with funding and support from the Stronger Democracy/Lever for Change community?
The bar for voting as the main form of participation in democracy is too low. We need to not only help young people vote in every election, but also become active and engaged participants in democracy year-round. That means we are going to erase the gaps in participation among young and older voters by increasing peer-to-peer youth civic education and outreach, and also create a platform that enables young people to become pro-democracy activists. Young people should be advocating for changes to make democracy more inclusive and fighting voter suppression measures that seek to disenfranchise youth, and especially young people of color, as we’ve seen in places like Georgia and other states. We are going to leverage investment from the Lever for Change community to help the next generation of young people strengthen democracy through their activism and voting.
What are the biggest challenges you see in our democracy? What are you most hopeful about?
Our democracy is a five-alarm fire. Election deniers and people who seek to restrict our rights to free and fair elections are on the ballot for key positions in several states this November. It’s plausible that one or many of them will win and be in a position to reject the results of the 2024 elections. We don’t often talk about it in terms of democracy, but nine unelected judges stripping the constitutional right to an abortion from half the population is absolutely a threat to our democracy. The government exerting control over people’s bodies is something we should be just as concerned about as the explicit threats to elections and democratic processes.
These threats are a lot to take in, but what gives me hope are the thousands of young people that we work with at Rise each year. They are incredible advocates, organizers, and bringing a creativity and relentlessness to this work that we badly need. If they aren’t ready to give up, how can we?
What do you want donors to know about funding bold solutions?
There’s an urgency to democracy philanthropy that’s not necessarily inherent to other areas of social impact. It’s not just election season when groups need funding; these fights for our democracy are happening year-round in states across the nation. We are not being hyperbolic when we say this is the most dangerous time for American democracy since the Civil War. We need funders to treat this with the same urgency that we are because without you, we cannot continue to fight for the basic freedoms and civil rights that are at the core of our democracy.
The Stronger Democracy Award is a competition to identify bold solutions addressing systemic barriers and advancing structural reforms in three key areas of U.S. democracy: Voting and elections, policymaking, and civic engagement. The Award is managed by Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that uses open and transparent competitions to help donors identify and fund high-impact solutions for significant societal challenges.