Speeches and Remarks

Voters of Tomorrow Executive Director Santiago Mayer Speaks on Young Voters and Endorses Tim Ryan at Ohio AFL-CIO Convention

Voters of Tomorrow Executive Director Santiago Mayer Speaks on Young Voters and Endorses Tim Ryan at Ohio AFL-CIO Convention

September 26, 2022


Good afternoon! My name is Santiago Mayer, and I am the Founder and Executive Director of Voters of Tomorrow, a Gen Z-led advocacy group fighting to advance the political power and participation of young people. I am honored to join you all today to highlight the growing role that young people all across the country are playing in politics, government, and the labor movement. You know, young people’s support for unions is currently at an all-time high — and let me tell you, that support is only going up from here.

Now why do I say that Gen Z will break records for support of unions? There’s an idea that young people feel the need to be connected to everyone all the time through social media. And that’s partially true. But we are also taking that same approach of unity and interconnectivity to some of our biggest fights in the country, from the fight to protect the right to an inclusive, history-based education to the fight against gun violence. We support the labor movement, because we have realized that we are stronger when we fight together. We know that unions brought us the 40-hour work week. We know that they helped create strong laws protecting young people from exploitation in the workplace. We know that unions stand on the side of working people in every corner of this nation – and America’s young people stand with them. 

However, for the first time in our country’s history, my generation is struggling more than our parents. Gen Z has gone through a lot over our relatively short lives, but right now, we’re going through a crisis that seems to only be getting worse. It’s nearly impossible for many of us to afford a one-bedroom apartment, let alone even think about buying a house anytime soon. Many of us are saddled with crushing student loan debt because we were told that taking it on was the key to financial stability and professional success — only to find that a college degree doesn’t always make building wealth any easier. And like the rest of America, we are also facing the rising costs of healthcare, food, housing, and education, we are one of the hardest-hit groups. That’s why unions must be essential for our future: they level the playing field for all of us.

Labor unions provide workers –– especially working-class people, blue-collar workers, and those who do not have a college degree –– with a voice in their workplace and a path to the middle-class. So naturally, being that unions especially benefit entry-level and low-wage workers, young people are driving the growth in the labor movement. We are organizing on college campuses, unionizing our local Starbucks stores, leading movements in Amazon warehouses, political campaigns, and even in Congress. We have seen that when unions are involved, conditions in the workplace significantly improve. Unions help everybody, no matter the job, no matter the setting, no matter the age or experience of the workers, unions make our workplaces – and our lives – better. 

Throughout the course of this nation’s history, unions have fought for a better future for their members and the generations that come after them — and now it’s time for Gen Z to carry the baton forwards. It’s time for a new generation of leaders in the union movement – those who understand the sense of urgency we feel to make our country a better, happier, more inclusive nation. With our entire lives being a series of “once-in-a-lifetime” events and with so many people having the rug pulled out from under them over and over again, young people are increasingly feeling like they have no safety net, no room for error, and no path to a better future. But we won’t be victims to systems and institutions that have failed our generation – we will be the generation that changes them.

Gen Z has spent our lives practicing mass shooter drills, watching our parents struggle through the recession, and then again through the pandemic, living through a mental health crisis, and watching the government systematically take away our rights. But at each turning point, more and more of our generation stand up for what we believe in – whether that be in the streets or with our families at the dinner table. We are finally at a point where most of Gen Z is old enough to vote – with millions of others waiting in the wings – and now we are watching as legislators that are supposed to be listening to us and representing us, are slowly taking away the rights that those before us have fought for, have bled for, have died for. They are trying to dismantle the core tenet of democracy, the most integral, fundamental, and sacred right to vote. But no matter what backwards and regressive policies the far-right tries to force down the throats of the American public, the next generation of voters will not stand for it.

Young people are change-makers. Organizing movements throughout history often share a common thread. Whether it be in the halls of legislatures or the halls of our workplaces, young people have always led the charge to create positive change. I started Voters of Tomorrow precisely for this reason – because our power lies in our collective fortitude and strength. By fortifying the connections between labor, education, civic engagement, and political representation, our coalition will stand up strong against those who seek to turn the clock back; against those who seek to ignore our right to fair wages and our right to unionize; and against those who seek to undermine democracy — because let’s be very clear, we are under attack from far-right representatives in our government. These fascists, who hide behind a veil of faux patriotism and who place profits and power over the people that they are supposed to be serving, are an unequivocal threat to the future of the labor movement, our democracy, and our nation. Generation Z especially, but all of us cannot and will not let these people win at the ballot box.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — we need to elect candidates who will put 2nd graders above the Second Amendment. We need to elect candidates who will fight for workers instead of for profits and campaign contributions. We need to elect candidates who will help all employees thrive, not just C-suite executives. We need candidates who will defend our democracy, not rip it apart. 

And this is why I could not be any more excited to announce that Voters of Tomorrow is endorsing Tim Ryan for Senate — because he is a leader who will not only hear what young people say, but who will listen to us. A leader who will protect our students. A Senator who will stand up for the little guy, and give them the power to decide their own future; our own future. 

Generation Z, supported by allies like you, will not allow the far-right to take us to the dystopian nightmare that they seek. 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; support candidates that will stand up for youth, instead of kicking them to the curb; vote for candidates who support workers, not board rooms; ultimately, we will fight for candidates that will fight for us. In just 42 days, Gen Z will deliver a resounding message to the far right: they pissed off the wrong generation. 

Gen Z is the single most important demographic in the upcoming midterm elections. Seriously, out of the fifty most competitive House seats, nearly half will be decided by youth turnout alone. Gen Z also has the numbers to decide 6 Senate races, and 5 gubernatorial elections. Our generation is ready to pick up the fight started by those before us. We are not playing around, we have seen wars, terrorist attacks, economic recessions, an ever evolving pandemic, crisis after crisis after crisis — but our resolve remains unchanged. We weren’t around in 1984, and we’ll be damned if we let the far-right take us there. 

I’m often asked what politicians could do to ensure that young people turn out in critical elections. I always tell them one word: listen. Listen to our experiences and our ideas for a better future. Stop the cycle of asking young people for their votes but tuning them out during consequential legislative discussions that will have massive impacts on our future. We will vote, but please, do everything in your power to ensure we have a seat at the table — because if you don’t, we’ll kick the door open and just pull up our own chair. 

Right now, all the momentum is pointing in a single direction. The pro-democracy movement, led in large part by young people, is proving to the country that our battle for democracy is not done. People of all ages, not just young Americans, are responding to our message. So it’s no surprise to see the far-right proposing radical and nonsensical ideas — they want to defund social security and raise taxes on college students. Enforce a federal Don’t Say Gay agenda that hurts both our teachers and our students. And even pass a national abortion ban – criminalizing the sacred right to choose. It is time for us to fight back.

President Roosevelt once said that while we cannot always build the future for our youth, we can build our youth for the future. But right now, this year, this election, we can build the future that those youngest amongst us want. We can build the future that Gen Z deserves. So it’s time for us to come out swinging, to prove to the far-right that their ideas belong in the past, not the future. To build a world that empowers young people, that elevates their values and ideas, and that allows them to be who they are.

If we turn out with the same vigor and strength that we did in 2020, and even more, we can continue to change this country for the better. All the issues that are directly affecting us ––education, gun violence, LGBT rights, and yes, the labor movement ––are why Gen Z will be a force to be reckoned with in this election. But all of this, all of the work we have done to fight against those stripping our rights away, is dependent on turning out to vote. This November, every single eligible voter should, MUST, get to the polls. Vote on behalf of yourself and your family. Vote on behalf of Gen Z, because while democracy is a gift, it’s also fragile, and it’s something that takes hard work and engagement to uphold. So vote for the people who will protect our unions, protect our rights as human beings, and protect us.

Thank you. 


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