How Students Can Help Prevent a Political Red Wave

Digital illustration by Nava Mach.

On Nov. 2, 2021, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia gubernatorial election, defeating opponent Terry McAuliffe by a margin of roughly 60,000 votes. Youngkin, with no former political experience, swept the seemingly blue Virginia by surprise. His conservative views on topics being taught at schools won over Virginia even after decades of the state continuously aligning with more progressive viewpoints. 

Every county in Virginia voted more conservatively in the gubernatorial race than it did in the 2020 election. This trend has been reflected over the past year in local elections across the country. The trends communicated by Youngkin’s victory and the recent growth in Republican support bring up an essential question: Will there be a red wave in upcoming elections? 

“Future elections like the 2022 midterms are, at this point, doomed for the Democrats,” Maddie Feldman, chair of the Student Action Committee, said. “There has been generally less momentum on the volunteer and voter side in this year’s elections.” 

Today, Democratic candidates are less appealing due to their lack of ingenuity. The party has been using outdated tactics that don’t appeal to voters in 2022. People are looking for a sense of freshness, and the Democrats have not been delivering it. 

“The Democrats have to stop pushing the same candidates in different fonts,” Feldman said. “The ‘moderate white guy’ isn’t appealing at all to progressive and BIPOC voters.” 

Although I am unable to vote, I find many problems with the Democrats’ strategies in current politics. It feels as though I’m not represented in the party; there’s no incumbent for me to relate to as a South Asian LGBTQ+ community member. And in a time when it is crucial to have different backgrounds represented, I could see why people like me wouldn’t vote. But this lack of action gives power to Republicans since many people who belong to minorities tend to stray toward Democratic values. 

The overwhelming power that Republicans have gained in the past year certainly indicates that there will be more red on the electorate map in upcoming elections—it feels inevitable. The thought of the right overtaking Congress, lobbying for unconstitutional voter suppression, limiting abortion rights and using their idea of freedom as an excuse to avoid taking simple health precautions is daunting. America has already endured a four-year blockade in making liberal progress during the Trump administration—it simply cannot afford to move backwards. 

The further Democratic hope fades, the clearer it is that young changemakers need to work even harder to ensure that our country is not in full control by the other side. Even though a majority of us can’t yet vote, there are many things GDS students can do to prevent a potential new red wave in the United States. 

“Initiatives like phone-banking and postcarding are one of the most effective ways to get more involved in elections,” Feldman said. “The more people vote, the more blue we will see on the maps.” She pointed out that it doesn’t have to take much effort to get involved, and said that “it could be as easy as reminding your friends to register to vote if they are of age.”

Joining student activist groups in the GDS community, like the Voter Mobilization Initiative, also helps make an impact in increasing voter participation. Efforts that these groups lead, like lobbying, working to combat voter suppression and spreading voter education help strengthen the Democratic party. The initiatives allow communities to become more knowledgeable about their rights and about important issues going on in the country. Feldman hopes to assemble further campaigns and efforts for the Voter Mobilization Initiative in coming months.

History teacher Sue Ikenberry suggested joining youth sectors of groups like All on the Line, which combats gerrymandering across the country. She also believes that working alongside politicians on issues that you care about is a meaningful way to make change.

I encourage you to do your own research on how you can help. Outside of GDS, there are also many opportunities for students to make change. I canvassed for Virginia House of Delegates candidate Jennifer Adeli last summer, going from door to door in parts of Northern Virginia and educating voters about her values and policies. I found that having meaningful conversations opens people’s eyes to problems they have never even acknowledged before—it definitely helped strengthen her support during the campaign. Democracy begins at home, and local efforts like canvassing make a significant difference in our country. 

While voter education initiatives may seem out of reach to students because of our age, taking advantage of these opportunities is extremely important to help protect the future of the United States. It is also not just something to do only a few weeks before an election—as Feldman said, “democracy has no off-season.” If students remain politically active and learn lessons from past elections, we can ensure that America can be a nation for all of us: a place of hope, freedom and justice. 

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