NextGen president: Climate and economic justice are at stake for young people this election

NextGen America President Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez speaks at a rally with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Nov. 5, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

By Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance

“A lot of young people in Michigan understand what’s on the line,” Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez said while sitting on a bench in the University of Michigan Rackham Auditorium lobby on Saturday after U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) filled it to max capacity.

Ramirez, the president of NextGen America, was in Ann Arbor for one of nine national stops with MoveOn and the progressive former presidential candidate to get out the vote in Michigan and four other key states. NextGen America was founded by billionaire Tom Steyer, who also ran for president as a Democrat in 2020.

Sanders urged people to vote for progressives and against right-wing Republicans. He and members of the two progressive groups spoke about climate change, reproductive rights and other priorities that could be compromised if not enough young people vote for their interests. 

Sanders “can rally and mobilize young people like no one else,” Ramirez told the Advance in an interview after the Saturday rally attended by more than 1,000 people in Ann Arbor. The group said last week that almost 3 million voters ages 18 to 35 have already voted in the midterms.

“Whether Congress chooses to act or fails to act on the issues of climate change, economic justice, racial justice, young people will suffer the greatest consequences of that action or inaction,” she said. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a rally in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Nov. 5, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Michigan Advance: What’s at stake on Tuesday?

Ramirez: On Tuesday, there’s so, so much on the line. Whether it’s talking about whether we continue to be a functioning democracy post this election, whether we will become a nation that totally outlaws and bans abortion and women’s ability to decide what happens with their own bodies, their own health, their own future, whether we actually build an economy that works for everyone in this country. And one of the biggest issues, which is: Will we be able to protect the gains we’ve made on climate change? Or will Republicans come into power and reverse the progress that was just recently enacted?

Michigan Advance: How do you feel about the three top [Democratic] candidates in Michigan right now, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and their stances on these issues?

Ramirez: It is just night and day, compared to [their Republican challengers, Tudor Dixon, Matt DePerno and Kristina Karamo, respectively]. There used to be a time period when people would say that there wasn’t much of a difference between Republicans and Democrats. And I think historically, maybe people could argue that back then, but you cannot do that today. There is a clear difference between one party that wants to represent all Americans and actually tackle big issues, and one party that seems interested in having minority participation of voters and absolutely a minority agenda.

Michigan Advance: Could you talk about … getting Bernie on board for this rally?

Ramirez: We talked to young voters across the country, we polled young voters, and far and away when you ask them who is their candidate, their elected official they trust and believe in the most, it’s Bernie Sanders. He may not be the youngest, but he is the most popular with the youngest generation in this country. And they trust him and believe him. And he can rally and mobilize young people like no one else. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at the Michigan Democratic Party’s nominating convention in Lansing on Aug. 21, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Michigan Advance: Do you think that events like these that mobilize young voters … will be enough to break young voters out of the bloc where they have the lowest turnout rates out of any other demographic? 

Ramirez: Well, 2018 and 2020 saw huge gains in youth voter turnout, historical turnout of young people. Young people are the least likely to participate of any generation, but they’re also incredibly powerful. And there’s no way that [U.S. Rep.] Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) would be a congresswoman from the great state of Michigan had it not been for young voters, and the Democrats would not have won the House in 2018, the Senate in 2020 or the White House without young voters. 

So young voters do get to decide and should have a say in who takes power, because whether Congress chooses to act or fails to act on the issues of climate change, economic justice, racial justice, young people will suffer the greatest consequences of that action or inaction.

Michigan Advance: What are those consequences if young people don’t turn out on Tuesday?

Ramirez: You know, I’m always in this work for the long-term, and we have to be. It can’t just be about an election cycle, it has to be about how we organize long term and how we also expand and continue to organize in places like Michigan, but in other places. I live in Texas. Like, I’m going to keep organizing in Texas because I know that if we turn out young people in the largest battleground state in the country, it’s game over for the Republican Party nationally. We do not put our hope in any single politician or party.

Michigan Advance: Is there anything else you want to add?

Ramirez: Just that if people haven’t voted or if they have, they can still have an impact this election. Everyone should try and get a few friends out to vote and post online that you voted and tell them who you voted for. We’re all democracy defenders, we’re all influencers, and we should be influencing our family and friends about why, when, where and how to vote in this election.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected]. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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