Amid the emotion and chaos, one sentiment seemed universal: We needed to vote to prevent this from becoming our new normal.
It was not simply a symbol of good citizenship; it was self-preservation.
We met in January of 2019. Aishlinn had recently been inspired to join Montgomery County Students for Change (fondly known as MoCo for Change), the student organization that had organized the walkout in the D.C. area after Parkland and had since expanded to activism across a broader social justice platform.
Claire, having been involved with the organization since the year before, was organizing something that the group had not done before: federal lobbying. We joined forces and co-organized a successful lobby day for gun violence prevention legislation. Through each meeting with lawmakers, it became abundantly clear to us how unique and powerful our generation’s perspectives are.
We became a team, energized by a shared view that the student voice needed to be heard in all spheres, especially at the ballot box.
Last June, we were elected co-presidents of MoCo for Change. We knew that one element of our platform had to remain a constant: making sure our peers could register and preregister to vote. With an election approaching, we had to ensure that every Montgomery County student had access to the registration process and knew that they could preregister at 16 years old in Maryland.
In October, we partnered with the county Board of Elections and with other student leadership groups, including the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association for voter registration drives for each of the 26 Montgomery County Public Schools high schools. Through this partnership, 225 students registered to vote and 377 students registered to serve as election workers.
As history has proved, it is not enough to simply tell people to vote. Our organization was founded on the idea that students must be at the forefront of social change, not passive observers. Our goal is to empower students with the knowledge and resources they need to shape the political path of our country. We will educate students on local, state and federal candidates and provide opportunities for students to advocate for the candidates that they believe in.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has posed challenges that we will need to grapple with in the lead-up to the November election. Our usual means of mobilization — in-person meetings, walking out, canvassing, talking to voters, holding in-person registration drives — are not an option for the foreseeable future. However, the issues we are striving to solve have not gone away, and the election cycle will continue.
Through virtual channels, we will provide information about the candidates and how voting is being conducted. Maryland has adopted voting by mail, and we need to ensure that voters know how to use it. We witnessed the power of technology, specifically social media, as it aided in mobilizing thousands of students for our first two walkouts. We will again use it as a means for change.
We are at a decisive point in our country’s history. The political energy of today’s youths should not be wasted. Our turnout has the power to determine this election. Through student-led voter registration, education initiatives and virtual organizing, we can equip ourselves with the support and tools necessary to make record youth-voter turnout a reality, even with the unforeseen challenges we are facing.
Many Montgomery County students will cast ballots in November, some of whom registered because of our efforts. We may never know how many people we have motivated to vote, but we’re confident that by speaking up for the issues we care about, the impact of MoCo for Change’s work will be felt well past Election Day 2020.