We experienced what many felt Nov. 9, 2016: What started as an exciting election watch party at Bear’s Lair Tavern soon became a punch in the gut. It did not make any sense. My friends at UC Berkeley and I had knocked on doors, watched debates and discussed election updates in Political Science 1 with professor Jack Citrin. We even helped each other navigate various absentee ballots.
Some people switched their tone to something more optimistic after the election, with takes ranging from “Maybe Trump won’t be so bad” and “It is possible for Trump to be a good president” to “Let’s give him a chance.”
The pessimistic fears we had that night in 2016 weren’t hysterical, however — they were premonitions. Over the next three years, we endured President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric, protested against his administration’s policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border and watched in horror as the White House seemed to abandon Kurdish allies in Syria.
We are barely holding on in 2020, and four more years of Trump will fundamentally deteriorate the very fabric of our country. More than 150,000 people have died from COVID-19. The U.S. economy had its worst second-quarter plunge ever recorded. The nation is grappling with persistent racial injustice.
Amid the pandemic, many students are facing educational setbacks and a loss of job opportunities, all of which can have a negative impact on mental and emotional health. Trump didn’t cause the coronavirus, but his lacking response and failed leadership has exacerbated the ongoing public health, economic and racial justice crises.
Like many students, I turned the shock of election night into action. I helped create a sorority, Delta Sigma, which is dedicated to inclusivity, graduated from UC Berkeley and joined Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, eventually becoming the national director of Students for Biden.
I wanted to work on a campaign because, as a permanent resident who can’t vote yet, I wanted to do everything I could to make Trump a one-term president.
Thankfully, I’m just one of many people from my high school in Maryland and from UC Berkeley who joined various campaigns to make a difference too.
Young people sometimes get a bad rap and are stereotyped as being lazy, addicted to technology and entitled. While we may need to put down our phones more often, we are not lazy or entitled — we’re a generation driven by action. In a country with rising inequality, crushing student debt and a pandemic making everything worse, we must rise to the moment and exercise one of our most sacred democratic duties: vote.
Unfortunately, the United States has one of the lowest rates of youth voter turnout in the world. But that’s not because we don’t want to vote or think it’s unnecessary — in many cases, we find it complicated to navigate the voter registration and vote-by-mail process.
With COVID-19 pushing young people to move back home or take classes online from different states, voter registration and ballot requests may seem more confusing than ever ahead of the November election.
But it’s not. With a little research, you can find out how to vote and help empower your friends, families and neighbors to do so as well. This is the most consequential election of our lifetimes, and no one can sit on the sidelines.
There’s too much on the line to write in a joke candidate or skip out on casting a ballot because you’re in a deep-blue state. Think about what is at stake and the shared values you’re fighting for. I personally started working for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign back in July 2019 because I wanted to work for someone with empathy and compassion.
During the primary, many overlooked Joe’s campaign theme, but now with Trump’s apparent mishandling of COVID-19 and race relations, restoring the soul of the United States is exactly what we need to do. We need everyone who is able to speak up, organize and vote to do so.
We are less than 90 days from the election — it’s not too late to get involved. From speaking about your values, joining a campaign, phone banking, registering people to vote and navigating the vote-by-mail process, there are so many ways to engage in civic duty.
We didn’t take the election of Trump lying down. We called out his rhetoric, made signs, organized and stayed involved. Sparks of hope in the form of protests emerged, with the Women’s March enveloping the country and young people speaking out against gun violence, hate speech, police brutality and climate change.
In a time when we could have lost hope and completely disconnected from the political process, we instead stepped up, leading to a 79% jump in youth voter turnout in the 2018 election. Once again, like we did in 2018, we must rise up against injustice, demand better from our government and carry the momentum forward for change at the ballot box.
When we cast a ballot in November, we won’t just be casting it for ourselves.
We’ll be casting it for the frontline workers, the nurses and doctors risking their lives with minimum personal protective equipment, those caring for their children and older parents during the pandemic, students working toward their degrees online and the families rebuilding their small businesses.
We fight, we organize, we march on — “for the soul of the nation.”
Lubna Sebastian is the national director of Students for Biden and a 2019 graduate of UC Berkeley.