Speeches and Remarks

Voters of Tomorrow Executive Director Santiago Mayer Addresses Three Thousand at AFT Convention

Voters of Tomorrow Executive Director Santiago Mayer Addresses Three Thousand at AFT Convention

July 17, 2022


Good morning! My name is Santiago Mayer and I am honored to be joining you all today to speak about the critical role that young voters will play in this year’s midterm elections. I want to thank the American Federation of Teachers and their tirelessly inspiring Randi Weingarten for inviting me here today and giving me a platform to share the important work young people are doing all around the country to stand up for their rights. But first, I want to take a moment to recognize the AFT and the millions that they represent for giving young people the tools they need to become the talented, educated, and empowered leaders of tomorrow. 

I am who I am today because of my 7th grade english teacher, who encouraged me to think critically; because of a librarian, who in 2nd grade allowed me to find refuge in the library and encouraged me to pursue my curiosity; because of a bus driver, who’d always smile and welcome me, even on my worst days; because of a school administrator, who in 6th grade trusted me with opportunities that forced me to go way out of my comfort zone. Young people like me have long found comfort in education, when we couldn’t find it anywhere else — and that is precisely why the partnership between students and teachers – between young people and those who allow them to grow into young leaders – is so important. When we all work together, we are an unstoppable force of good that will triumph over the forces fighting against us. 

I started Voters of Tomorrow precisely because of this – because our power lies in our collective fortitude and strength. By fortifying the connections between education, civic engagement, and political representation, our coalition can stand up strong against those who seek to turn the clock back; against those who seek to discriminate against our LGTBQ+ peers and teachers, those who seek to ban books and infringe on educational freedom, and those who seek to undermine democracy — because let’s be very clear, when Kevin McCarthy talks about passing a “Parents’ bill of rights,” what he actually means is to imposing national versions of the retrograde policies the far-right has been experimenting with in their laboratories of autocracy. When Kevin talks about “parents’ rights,” he means a federal Don’t Say Gay law, federally-supported book bans, and federal mandates that prohibit and even punish educators for providing students with the accurate, evidence-based education they deserve. 

In the United States of America, in 2022, it is absurd that we have to even gather here and point out the dangerous, backwards, and borderline-fascist nature of the far-right’s policy proposals. Our teachers and educators have enough on their plates with building the next generation of American leaders — often for wages that are too low and in classrooms that are overcrowded —  yet now they are also being forced to be on the frontlines of the war against youth rights and educational freedom. They are fighting because we can’t afford to lose — because when politicians decide to declare war on young people and their education – like far-right elected officials across the country have done – the effects of their attacks reverberate throughout every facet of our society. It doesn’t just affect students in the short term; but rather will deeply impact the educational success of the next generation of American students. But we know this. Some of us have parents who’ve lived through this.  We know this because we’re living through this right now. But we are not gonna be living through this much longer.

Generation Z, supported by powerful allies like you, the AFT and their millions of members, will not allow the far-right to take us into the dystopian nightmare that they hope to create – a world in which educational content is white-washed, literature is censored, and discrimination is encouraged in the classroom. This November, Gen Z will elect pro-democracy champions up and down the ballot. We will elect candidates who believe that books should be read, not banned; We will support candidates that will stand up for youth rights, and we will fight for candidates that will fight for us. In just 114 days, Gen Z will deliver a resounding message to the far-right: they pissed off the wrong generation. 

These are neither hopeful statements nor empty promises, out of the fifty most competitive House seats, nearly half can be decided by youth turnout alone. Gen Z also has the power to decide 6 Senate races, 5 gubernatorial elections, and other important statewide races in states from Florida to Texas to Pennsylvania and beyond. Our generation is ready to pick up the fight started by those before us and ensure that the generations who follow us grow up in a better, more just, and safer world. We are ready to elect candidates who support a woman’s right to choose; candidates who’ll pass the climate legislation that our planet desperately needs, and candidates who will put second graders above the second amendment. We are not playing around: we have grown up in an America dominated by wars abroad, gun violence at home, global economic recessions, and an ever-evolving pandemic — but our resolve has not, and will never, waiver. With the support of a broad coalition, Generation Z will continue to fight to promote justice; we’ll continue to march for our lives and our rights; and we’ll walk out of class to stand up for the world we want to build. In our schools, we’ve learned about the long battles that generations before us fought to make America a better place – we refuse to be the generation who lets everything we’ve fought for slip from our grasp. 

With elected officials waging war against us, Gen Z is as energized as ever to turn out and protect our rights, to keep the Speaker’s gavel away from Kevin McCarthy, and to ensure that the likes of Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz cannot claim a majority in the Senate. We are forming a coalition that will stand up to protect kids from a radical faction that cares for nothing but their fascist agenda. I don’t care what pundits or forecasters say because none of their models account for the record high youth turnout that November will bring. With our rights on the line and our generation unified in support of the pro-democracy movement, Gen Z is about to deliver a blow to the far-right that they may never recover from. 

Because of our teachers, our generation has learned to fight for what is right, to help those who need it, and to stand up for those who can’t. Now more than ever, we are applying those important lessons. We are thinking critically, creating good trouble, and standing up for ourselves when our rights are attacked – just like we were taught in school. In just the last few months, Gen Z organizers at Voters of Tomorrow have distributed thousands of copies of banned books, we’ve registered voters against the wishes of state legislatures and school boards, and we’ve forced a book-banner to resign from powerful positions that influence education. We’ve done a lot already, but we are just getting started. 

Now more than ever before, we must act boldly and with confidence. We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by the far-right’s threats — because young people listen to us, they listen to you. Just as my education empowered me to be the person I am today, by teachers, by librarians and bus drivers, all of you here today are inspiring those who will lead us tomorrow. You are helping form the next generation of democracy defenders, those who will stand guard against fascism, and fight against authoritarianism. The far-right is attacking you because they’re afraid of what you can do, of how you can light a spark in a student’s mind for a lifetime. They’re afraid of you because they know you won’t sugarcoat history, and they know how poorly the history books will portray them. They are afraid of how young activists today often point at their teachers as the match that lit the fire that is burning fascism down. They are afraid of an entire generation who they know will condemn their regressive policies and hateful message at the ballot box. They know your power, they know our power, and they’re terrified of what we will do together. 

Thank you.


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