07/17/2022

Stirring up the youth vote, promising to deliver

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Santiago Mayer became old enough to vote just six months ago, but he is already a national leader in the get-out-the-vote movement. On Sunday, July 17, this young co-founder of Voters of Tomorrow—a nonprofit group designed to engage young people in the voting process—stood before thousands of cheering AFT members to describe just how powerful his generation can be.  

Santiago Mayer

“I started Voters of Tomorrow because when we all work together, we are an unstoppable force of good,” he said. “Our coalition can stand strong against those who seek to turn back the clock.”

Mayer listed some of the crucial issues on the ballot during these midterm elections: bodily autonomy, LGBTQIA+ rights, climate change, book bans, mandates prohibiting and even punishing educators for teaching evidence-based history, and the opportunity to pass gun safety legislation that would “put second-graders above the Second Amendment.”  

Despite this long list of challenges, Mayer is confident young people will vote in ways that will protect our rights and freedom. “With our rights on the line, Gen Z is about to deliver a blow from which the far right will never be able to recover,” he said. “We will not allow democracy to fall.”

Mayer’s zeal as a young voting advocate is key to engaging Gen Z in the elections process, but he also brings experience to the table. During the 2020 election, he volunteered for the Biden-Harris campaign to help mobilize young voters. He also co-founded Prom at the Polls, a clever initiative designed to draw first-time voters to the polls by encouraging them to dress up, prom-style, to vote and to use prom-style proposals to invite others to vote with them—then post their photos on social media.

Following its constituency, the organization leans into digital campaigns and campus communications and uses candidate scorecards to engage young voters, involving dozens of young strategists at the national and state levels.

Mayer generously credited educators for his activism and success. “I am who I am because of my education,” he said, describing a teacher who encouraged him to think critically, another who provided refuge in the school library, a bus driver who always offered a smile and an administrator who pushed him to challenge himself. “The partnership between students and teachers, between young people and those who help us grow into young leaders is so important.”

“All of you here are inspiring those who will lead us tomorrow,” he said. “You all are helping shape the next generation of democracy defenders.”

[Virginia Myers/photo by Suzannah Hoover]