Gen Z and Politics: A Conversation

 In Politics, Voices of Young People

Springtide Research Institute is hosting a series of conversations connected to our 2024 research on young people’s political engagement and attitudes, including when and why religious and political beliefs intersect. Below, members of our Springtide Ambassadors Program (SAP)—Akhil, age 16, Lupita, age 17, and Guillermo, age 18, discuss some of their motivations, passions, and questions about politics. Hear the entire conversation, facilitated by SAP Leadership Fellow Christian Camacho, age 25, on our YouTube channel.

Do you consider yourself a political person?

I completely consider myself a political person. As someone who lives in Texas and in the southwestern part of Texas, obviously immigration is very personal to me. Given that immigration is really a close part of me and my family, politics innately is just what determines me, who I am, [and] the culture, and so I would definitely consider myself a political person. I do have an affinity for politics because you see how politics affects your community and your family, and you sometimes are motivated to do certain things or to address certain injustices that you see or certain wrongs, and so that’s something that drives me to become more politically inclined.

I would like to say I’m politically conscious and politically involved; however, I feel like that doesn’t necessarily qualify me to be considered a “political person” in the sense that I understand that my whole life does not revolve around politics. I don’t talk about politics 24/7 with friends and family. In fact, in some instances, I try to refrain from talking about politics because I understand that sometimes it will cause some issues or arguments or disagreements.

Is there a social or political issue that you especially care about? Why?

I think environmental sustainability and climate change are topics that are really close to my heart. People often say that it’s a problem for future generations, but I really disagree. I’ve done lots of research and reading regarding the effects of pollution and plastic contamination of the ocean both inside of school and outside of school, and I’ve been really involved with initiatives that are trying to address climate change in my community. I feel a sense of urgency for young people like me to be actively involved, speak up, and raise awareness of these issues. Even though you might think that it will only affect us in 10, 20, 30 years from now, it is something that should be addressed right now.

Although I’m passionate about immigration, I realize how even just being passionate about one thing allows you to be passionate about a whole array of things. . . . I mean the border wall is in essence like a weapon— it’s a weapon for both people . . . and simultaneously affects wildlife. There’s a myriad of organizations that showcase just how awful the border wall affects both people and animals. Obviously, I’m very passionate about immigration, but via that passion I’m able to discover an array of other passions and other things that I think should be changed.

Do you feel it’s important for people in our society to be politically engaged?

Politics really impacts our life more than we like to acknowledge to the point that it’s really hard to separate ourselves from politics. . . . We have to stay engaged for the sake of our own community but also ourselves too. A lot of different communities that have been affected by politics may be relevant for a period of time, but eventually they’re swept under the rug and their voices [aren’t heard]. Without our engagement, they’re not going to be heard again. Without your engagement, you are contributing to the fact that some people are not going to get the help they need. It’s a sad reality, but we all have a civic duty to participate in one way or another.

Who or what has been the greatest influence on you politically?

One of the [influences] that’s really been important to shaping how I view politics is when I joined hands with other young teens in my community to oppose a Senate bill in California that unfairly targeted people in my faith. So I participated in a video public service announcement project that was shared with elected leaders to point out what was wrong with the bill and how it targeted people like me. This was really fulfilling because the governor of California actually ultimately vetoed [the] bill, which reassured me that young people can create change, and my voice does matter.

[There’s been] a lot of authors who I think have also really helped me politically discern where I stand. . . . I would say first and foremost Malcolm X. . . . I really want to reread that book again because there’s just so much that you can discern from each page and each chapter. Second, I would say James Baldwin because he also really uses spirituality and molds it with political action, which I found to be super commendable. Then, Dorothy Day is another person within the Catholic circle. Truthfully, this whole year I’ve found it kind of difficult to mold my spirituality with regard to Catholicism, but reading Dorothy Day and Malcolm X and all three in general I think I’ve been able to discern that there is an intersectionality between being spiritual and having an affinity for politics.

Do you think your religion or spirituality shapes or impacts your politics? How so?

When I think about politics, it’s usually separate from my religion because of the separation of church and state as it’s often known. However, I noticed that in many states, especially California where I live, many political decisions do have a huge effect on how people practice their faith. My religious belief sometimes influences my opinions, and I’m still learning about my faith every day. . . . They do influence my opinions as a Hindu. Something that we refer to as Dharma in my faith means that there’s a big deal in both small actions and big actions, so therefore whatever or whomever I’m looking at and their actions and their religious beliefs when it comes to Justice and fairness really play a role in how I view political stances.

Being a more progressive Catholic has allowed me to understand how much religion is very subjective, although we don’t necessarily want to consider that. At the end of the day, everybody interprets religion in a different way and that also applies to politics. . . . Some people will embrace more sides than others, or some people will disregard certain parts because they don’t necessarily identify with it. I feel like to an extent religion does impact my political views, but I think it’s more so my morality that’s tied to my religious beliefs and then the rest of it just flows from there.

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