Almost 23,000 Georgians will turn 18 between now and the Senate runoff election on January 5. I am one of them. My birthday is just two days before, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to vote. We were too young to vote in the November election, but now we have the chance to cast our very first ballot in a hugely important election: the runoff to fill our two U.S. Senate seats.
My birthday wish is that young voters in Georgia recognize that power, and celebrate their birthdays by voting, too.
I never really believed the phrase “every vote counts” until this year. Our generation broke records here and across the country. Youth voter turnout was the highest it’s ever been since 1971, when the 26th Amendment granted 18 year olds the right to vote. The Georgia youth vote led the nation as number one. We have the momentum, we just have to keep it up.
I understand people our age who feel detached to politics. Growing up, my family didn’t talk about politics. But four years ago when Donald Trump won the presidency, I began to pay attention. I’m a biracial; half-white, half-Latina. We have lived in Douglasville since I was five. Racism existed here before Trump, but it got noticeably worse in his four years as president. I didn’t think I’d ever witness such racism against my mother. People have threatened to call ICE when we are grocery shopping. People have told her on her work calls to “go back to her country.”
That made me really start to pay attention to current events, and I began my own research on differences in the parties. I formed my own opinions on leaders and their views.
One of the most important issues to me is protecting Georgians from COVID-19. The policies adopted by our next senators determine what our next years of school and college look like.
Most of my friends have returned to school in-person, but I’ll finish my high school career alone at home. I didn’t expect to have a remote senior year of high school. But the failure to promote social distancing or masks from our leaders, makes it acceptable for students and teachers to refuse to wear masks in our schools. Because I’m anemic, that kind of environment is not safe for me.
High schoolers all over Georgia missed out on milestones. My senior prom was supposed to be in April, but the virus still wasn’t under control, so it got pushed to May. Then the virus got even worse, and it was moved to July. Once July came, the virus had gone unchecked so badly, we had to shut everything down. I’ll never have a senior prom.
I missed a season of drum corps. I didn’t get to finish my season of winterguard and I couldn’t go to championships. Unless we have leaders who will take COVID-19 seriously, we will keep missing milestones.
The policies adopted by our next senators will also determine what the rest of this pandemic is like for our families. My dad is a high school teacher, and he is required to teach in-person. People working on the frontline like my dad don’t have the choice to risk such a deadly virus. They have to go to work to keep their jobs, no matter how dangerous the environments are.
Even though teachers are putting their lives on the line, my dad and teachers across Georgia just got a cut in their salaries because of COVID. With housing prices going up along with everything else, my family already struggles with money. Like a lot of people our age, I have a part-time job. I know many of us are trying to pitch in to help our families out. Right now, the Senate has been blocking aid that would have given Georgia workers unemployment relief and raised the minimum wage.
The pandemic will still be a danger for at least part of next year. We need our leaders to protect the health and jobs of us and our families. The leaders that we vote for work for us. Those of us who are turning 18 have such an important role in this election, and I can’t wait to use that power to vote for the first time on January 5th.
Guest columnist Rebecca Spoor is a high school senior residing in Douglasville, GA. Her opinion piece comes to VOX ATL via Center for American Progress in Washington D.C.