Racial equity. Mental health. Health care. Education. Climate change.
These are the issues, among others, nearest and dearest to young Coloradans’ hearts, according to research conducted by civic engagement nonprofit New Era Colorado.
New Era Colorado, one of the largest organizations in the nation dedicated to turning out the youth vote and advocating for progressive policies, embarked on a year-long listening tour asking young Coloradans what issues and values mattered most to them. After a year of virtual meetings surveying more than 1,200 young people across the state, New Era staffers compiled a policy agenda based on what they heard.
The release of the policy agenda comes less than two months from Colorado’s midterm election, in which young voters make up one-third of the electorate “and are increasingly frustrated with not seeing bold progress on their priorities,” the agenda says.
“Young people will turn out to vote when they believe and see tangible progress that matters to them,” said Nicole Hensel, New Era Colorado executive director. “If people want young people to turn out to vote, they’re going to be centering these issues.”
In 2020, New Era turned out 86% of young people in their base to vote and Colorado boasted the third-highest youth turnout in the country. About 70% of registered voters 18 to 34 years old in Colorado cast ballots in the 2020 election, a 9 percentage point increase from 2016, when turnout was 61%, according to New Era Colorado.
The top issue for young people surveyed was racial justice, according to the policy agenda, with 60% of total respondents and 78% of respondents of color naming it a top issue.
“We define racial justice as the elimination of systemic racism, especially anti-Blackness, and the implementation of systems that support communities of color to thrive,” the agenda says.
Because racial justice permeates multiple issues, from criminal justice to electoral systems, New Era leaders said they wrote the entire policy platform through a racial justice, anti-racist lens.
The agenda also said New Era is taking an abolitionist stance, “which is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing and surveillance, and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.”
Mental health, health care and reproductive rights were all top issues for young Coloradans.
Mental health was top of mind with 58% of respondents naming it among their most important issue. New Era leaders said they heard youth demand better access to mental health resources in high schools and recognition of the mental health impacts of oppression and generational trauma. Young people also pointed out how issues such as rising housing costs, the pandemic and the “existential dread” surrounding the climate crisis contribute to poorer mental health.
“This issue is also aligned with young people’s desire for more abundance and collectivism in the future — scarcity of our basic needs exacerbates mental health challenges,” the agenda says.
The report said young people were eager for a universal health care system to provide equal access to health care services for everybody.
To address a health care provider shortage, the report said young people wanted to see medical schools become more affordable and accessible.
The report also noted a demand to protect reproductive rights, including specifics such as continuing to protect and expand abortion access and eliminating anti-abortion counseling centers, providing comprehensive sex education and protecting the right to express gender and sexuality freely.
From paying teachers and adjunct professors more to ensuring curriculum properly covers issues about communities of color and LGBTQ people, young people ranked education among their most pressing issues.
This included more equitable access to higher education by lowering tuition, canceling all student debt, holding predatory student loan servicers accountable and improving access to federal and state financial aid.
New Era listed climate justice as a top priority young people mentioned during their survey.
“We define this as protecting our land, water and air, as well as dismantling historically racist policies that have disproportionately impacted the health and wellbeing of Black, Indigenous, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities,” the agenda says.
Young people want to see corporations and governments held accountable for moving toward sustainable energy, reducing pollutants and reversing racist environmental policies, the report says.
Young people noted undoing historically racist zoning codes, transitioning to renewable energy and fighting climate change on a systemic level rather than focusing only on individuals were all important issues to them, the agenda says.
“Obviously, young people aren’t a monolith, but we saw young people are dreaming of a world that centers equality, justice, women’s rights and embraced young people’s propensity toward creativity and innovation,” Hensel said.
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