Newly-eligible Iowan voters who attended the Polk County Steak Fry are ready to be politically active and ready to demand their needs.
Attendees aged 16 to 20 were abundant Saturday at Water Works Park and heard from 17 presidential candidates. While some young voters had already committed to caucusing for a certain candidate on Feb. 3, others were at the event to shop around, and all want to select a candidate who can advocate for issues most important to their age group: gun control and climate change.
Iowans who will be 18 by the November 2020 election can participate in the Iowa Caucus.
“We’re at an age where we can vote and there’s a lot of us,” Marie Nolan, 20, a student from Drake University, said. “We’re ready to talk about big topics: gun control and the climate.”
Henry Sanders, 19, echoed the importance of the issues. Sanders is a student at Grinnell College but originally from Jackson, Mississippi.
“Even though other issues like immigration are incredibly important to us, Gun control and climate change are the ones that pose the most direct threat to our lives,” he said.
Youth voting numbers are historically low but are on the rise. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement recently released its analysis of the 2018 midterm election, finding 34 percent of youth turned out in Iowa. In 2014, that number was around 22.
“I think politicians know they can’t always count on my generation to vote,” said Emilyn Crabbe, 20, who also attends Drake University. “If we turn out, they’ll care about what we need. And we have unique interests as college women.”
Jordan Stahly, 17, from West Des Moines, said she thinks social media is helping young people become more politically astute.
“Social media helps,” she said. “We’re all seeing what’s happening and we don’t like it.”
Stahly said the issue of gun control is of utmost importance to her and her peers — describing a situation where on a recent school day, the fire alarm went off in her classroom three times in an hour, putting the whole school on edge.
“Each time, we never knew if it was an actual emergency or not,” Stahly said.
The urgency of climate change was reflected at the Steak Fry, which followed Friday’s Global Climate Strike.
Young people took to the streets at over 2,500 events scheduled in over 163 countries on all seven continents.
Both Joe Biden and Julian Castro held climate change forums in Eastern Iowa that same day.
According to 350.org, a major environmental advocacy group and a co-organizer of the day’s events, more than 4 million people worldwide took part. In Iowa, students in Iowa City and Ames, among other cities, took part in the global action.
“Climate change is definitely the biggest threat that humanity has ever faced,” Sanders said. “If we don’t get that right, we’re not going to be in a good situation for anything else.”
The Steak Fry was among the first political event for a lot of the young voters, who said the experience will be influential in how they caucus in February.
“[The event] probably will [influence how I vote] in that it’s given me more information about what the candidates are like and how they perform in real life,” said Theo Deitz-Green, 19, a student at Grinnell College originally from Montclair, New Jersey.
“I got to shake hands with Pete at the pre-rally. I saw him sit down and have lunch, and I got within three feet of Kamala Harris,” Sanders said.
by Isabella Murray
Photo by Julie Fleming