Joe Biden struggled to gain youth support during the Democratic primary. So when he made a nod to young people and their activism during his speech accepting his party’s presidential nomination on Thursday, it was notable.
“One of the most powerful voices we hear in the country today is from our young people. They’re speaking to the inequity and injustice that has grown up in America. Economic injustice. Racial injustice. Environmental injustice,” Biden said.
He continued: “I hear their voices and if you listen, you can hear them too. And whether it’s the existential threat posed by climate change, the daily fear of being gunned down in school, or the inability to get started in their first job – it will be the work of the next president to restore the promise of America to everyone.”
The moment came after a convention that highlighted young voices in an effort to address the issues they care about, including gun violence, climate change and immigration.
“This year, our convention was different in look and feel, and featured powerful and diverse voices from the next generation of party leaders,” Cate Hurley, deputy press secretary for the Democratic National Convention Committee, told CNN.
On Wednesday, young people were front and center on the virtual stage at the DNC, speaking on the issues they care about deeply and have been personally impacted by: gun violence, climate change and immigration.
Emma Gonzalez, the 20-year-old Parkland shooting survivor and a co-founder of March For Our Lives, narrated a video focused on gun violence, an issue that motivated young people to turn out to the polls at the highest rates in a quarter century during the 2018 midterm elections.
In the convention’s section on climate change, Alexandria Villaseñor, a 15-year-old climate activist, described witnessing the 2018 “The Campfire,” the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.
The section also featured Andrew Adamski, a farmer who studies microbial ecology at Northern Michigan University, and Katherine Lorenzo, a climate activist in Nevada.
Climate change is “robbing my generation of a future,” Villaseñor said Wednesday.
And on immigration, 11-year-old Estela Juarez, the daughter of a Marine veteran, read a letter to President Donald Trump detailing her mother’s deportation.
“Every day that passes, you deport more moms and dads and take them away from kids like me,” Juarez said.
That night also featured an address and performance from singer Billie Eilish, who called on young people to support Biden.
“Silence is not an option and we cannot sit this one out. We all have to vote like our lives and the world depend on it because they do. The only way to be certain of the future is to make it ourselves,” Eilish said.
Still, while youth organizers are glad that Biden and the DNC are paying attention to young people, they suggested that Biden take more time to directly engage young voters.
“I would have liked to see it all throughout (the week), not as some sort of siloed, ‘this is young people’s night at the DNCC,’” said Charlie Bonner, the 24-year-old communications director of MOVE Texas, a nonpartisan youth organization built out of the University of Texas at San Antonio. MOVE Texas works to increase youth voter turnout and build youth political power in Texas.
“Emma Gonzalez narrated a video, where was the Emma Gonzalez keynote speech that I needed?” Bonner said.
Some young organizers wondered what comes next.
“The question is: will this continue beyond the convention? What will this look like in terms of any young voter engagement strategy that they’re already pretty far behind on, but that they will be deploying for the next… 70-something days?” Sarah Audelo, executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, said.
The Alliance for Youth Action is a nonpartisan network of youth-led organizations across the country dedicated to fighting for the issues young voters care about and drumming up enthusiasm from young voters to turnout at the polls.
According to Audelo, Biden’s address to young people on Thursday was both “powerful and overdue” and demonstrated that his campaign is “capable of doing youth outreach.”
She added, “He needs to be contacting young voters directly, the campaign needs to be contacting young voters directly.”
Matt Nowling, interim president of the College Democrats of America, said organizers associated with the campaign and the DNC are doing just that.
While the College Democrats have been engaged in electoral politics for years, they’re seeing an “unprecedented amount of collaboration with the Biden campaign” and other down-ballot campaigns, Nowling said. He also noted other youth-oriented facets to the Biden team including Students for Biden, which was launched by the campaign last summer, and the Biden campaign youth vote team, which is led by Hannah Bristol.
He noted that in addition to official convention programing, the DNC Youth Council led a series of behind-the-scenes meetings and mixers, which included messages from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and businessman Andrew Yang.
“I left the convention, I guess, virtually, feeling very energized and ready to continue our work of organizing,” Nowling said.