Generation after generation, youth have been told that between the salad and soup, there’s no place for politics at the dinner table. Such suppression of political discussion has only heightened in the past four years, and as politics and elections have grown more contentious, political views have climbed to the top of the list of the four things to never discuss in public, trailed closely by religion, money and sex.
Yet in a country and world where it has become easier and easier to be intimidated by the prospect of making a conversation uncomfortable, more and more teenagers are challenging the notion that politics should be left to adults.
From Greta Thunberg and Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez delivering powerful speeches at the UN about the imminent dangers of climate change to Emma Gonzales and other outspoken survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting launching the March for Our Lives protests and movement, it has never been so blatantly clear that youth truly do have the strength to reroute the future. Standing next to these individuals are youth-run organizations, such as Done Waiting, which are demanding that political opinions are not a right granted only to those who can vote.
Done Waiting, a volunteer-run organization of young adults ranging in age from 13 to 28, as their name suggests, are done waiting for elected politicians to make long-overdue change. Founded in 2020, Done Waiting emerged from the ashes of an unsuccessful grassroots campaign to elect the organization’s founder, Solomon Rajput, as a representative of Michigan’s 12th district.
Though Rajput lost the election, the hundreds of volunteers who worked on his campaign didn’t want his loss to be the end of their journey. Further, the volunteers wanted a space to continue to exercise and grow into their freedom of speech that, despite being so coveted by Americans, is often denied to young people by older generations. So, within months, an organization was built, with a simple mission statement: “fighting to bend the establishment to the will of the people”
In seven months, over 300 Done Waiting staff have made more than 204,000 calls ranging in topic from deep canvassing for Medicare for All in Florida to advocating for progressive underdogs in state elections such as Adam Christensen.
And as of mid-March 2021, Done Waiting members collectively voted to endorse progressive Nina Turner, a former member of the Ohio State Senate and the national co-chair of the Bernie 2020 presidential campaign, in her bid to represent Ohio’s 11th district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Teenagers are busy people, and between school, sports, homework, college applications, and jobs, little time is left over for anything else. Yet every week, every member of the Done Waiting staff participates in at least two two-hour long phone banking shifts, with many committing to four, five or even six.
For some members of the organization, the solace and safety they find in their phone banking are what keeps them involved.
Maddie Lunt, Done Waiting’s Content Coordinator, explained her frustration with how the political beliefs of young people are overlooked.
“I’ve been told I can’t have opinions on health care systems since I’ve never experienced it firsthand,” Lunt said. “Adults always want young people to get involved and express their opinions until they have different ones than their own.”
She explained how though joining Done Waiting didn’t change how adults treat her, it did allow her to better understand the validity and strengths of her beliefs.
For others, such as Done Waiting’s National Graphics Director Tony DiMeglio, joining a grassroots organization turned political opinions into actions, the effects of which were more impactful than “just posting political memes on social media.”
“I wanted to get some actual skin in the game and fight for what I believe in to make this country and this world a better place for all working people,” DiMeglio said.
Done Waiting isn’t the only organization that has catalyzed youth’s interest in politics into real-life change.
PERIOD, an organization and movement fighting to obliterate period poverty and destigmatize menstruation has established hundreds of chapters worldwide in six years.
Members of the Sunrise Movement, an organization focused on youth-led action to battle the climate change that is imminently consuming the Earth, contacted more than 6.5 million eligible voters during the 2020 primaries and presidential election.
All such organizations are making it abundantly clear that no matter what — whether their presence is requested or not, whether their voices are talked over or spotlighted, whether their opinions are acknowledged or brushed off — young people will have a seat at the political table, regardless of if they have to pull up their own chair.
“If we don’t encourage more young people to get involved now and make the change they want to see,” Maddie Lunt said, “what will happen when they take the reins as world leaders?”