‘Shaping This World’ — How Gen. Z Is Getting More Engaged in Politics Than Ever
As privileged as it sounds, I used to think politics was a bunch of noise that didn’t matter.
That was me as an innocent zoomer, a member of generation Z born in 2003. But like many other members of my generation, we grew up from a young age in a world that forced us to be political. I grew up watching the news instead of watching American TV classics.
My parents weren’t veteran activists trying to raise me to be woke. They weren’t trying to be political, either. My parents have always wanted to be educated, which initially inspired them to be informed about politics. Being educated and informed was always tied to their Chinese culture. Coming from China, they have been raised from the beginning not to cause dissent or question how politicians were running the country. But at a young age, I knew the names of major American politicians like the back of my hand.
I have only had the ability to be this privileged because of my loving Chinese first-generation immigrant parents who, even with their privileged background compared to other immigrants, endured their share of immigrant challenges. I think my family’s past history of living on Medicaid when we were below the poverty line when I was born, and my mom was unable to work, as well as my parents taking care of patients from all walks of life, have shaped them into empathetic people caring for people of all backgrounds. Managing the biculturalism of being Chinese immigrants, even in a bubbled community, is still something that influences us today, especially in our engagement in politics.
My father told me about a patient of his who told him that he couldn’t stand on the sidelines, which pushed him to get his citizenship. I watched my parents get their citizenship in 2014 and 2017. I remember them studying American politics and history and hearing their stories of how far they have come with their English skills. Fights over local school policies, the 2016 election cycle, and my engagement in politics inspired them to register to vote. I’m proud of the development of my parent’s engagement in democracy because they are leading the way for the AAPI community.
Reading headlines about how the AAPI vote is the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country energized me. Knowing that my family and I are part of the political change in the AAPI community. A lot of AAPI immigrants and children come into the country with the understandable mindset of being loyal to the status quo and not shaking politically so they can make their way in the country.
But now that my parents have “made it” and see the flaws in the ability to “make it,” they are willing to support my political engagement despite coming from a family line of doctors. Especially after the #StopAsianHate movement in 2021, it had never been more clear that the AAPI community needed to rise up, smash stereotypes, and get out the vote.
For the longest time, I felt super alone for being so political, aware, and angry all the time. When I started climate activism, I felt like a boy crying wolf who was never lying about the wolf in the first place. Little did I know I was part of a growing youth movement that would become mainstream in no time.
When I was in eighth grade, the March For Our Lives movement had swept across the country, including my middle school. I walked out with the rest of my classmates on March 14, 2018, and then helped organize a walkout on April 20, 2018, the 20th anniversary of Columbine. We collected the voices of youth in letters to our local Congressman Andy Harris.
Then Greta Thunberg’s school strike for climate spread across the world in 2019, then Black Lives Matter in 2020, and the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022. These are just a few of the many political events that catalyzed youth into being politically engaged. I saw that I was not alone at all in my activism.
For the 2022 midterm election, I joined Common Cause Maryland’s democracy justice league and was a nonpartisan poll monitor, dedicating my time to protecting the right to vote at the high school I just graduated from. During my poll monitoring shift, I saw several of my fellow classmates from the class of 2022 voting in their first election. I also had some interactions with several young voters who were going in for the first time.
When my shift was over, I went on Tik Tok. I watched videos celebrating the historic youth turnout, as well as Gen Z’s first congressman. I felt like the work of youth activists for every cause across America was paying off. And I could see that this was just the beginning of incredible change our democracy has never seen before.
Throughout my four years of high school up to my graduation, the increase in youth engagement in democracy and social justice is something I know will be responsible for leading historical changes in progress. At my high school graduation, I was the reflection speaker, inserting statements referencing political engagement: “We must look forward as we face the real world, carrying our years of education into shaping a better today. We yield so much power. Understand the world around you, and make your voice heard.”
The words I said in June 2022 turned into action in November 2022. We are shaping this world into one that reflects who we are.