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The South’s Got Now | Decidimos campaign seeks to energize youth vote

Young people have always been on the front lines of change in the United States. With a hugely consequential election on the horizon this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center is excited to launch The South’s Got Now | Decidimos. As a bilingual voter engagement campaign in English and Spanish, The South’s Got Now | Decidimos (which means “we decide”) will educate and energize young people of color in the Deep South as they build their power as changemakers in our democracy.

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As we set out to plan the campaign, we knew it would only be effective if young people of color defined the goals themselves, especially young people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. After all, these states have for too long been dismissed as not worthy of investment, dismissed as a place where progress is impossible. 

As people who live, work and organize in the Deep South, we know better. We know this region is often the birthplace – and the bellwether – of change.

So, we hired a nonpartisan firm to conduct polling and focus groups with more than 1,500 people of color, ages 18-40, living in the South. What we learned was striking. The data shows that participants do not believe that politics has much of a direct impact on their lives. They feel unrepresented by the government and disengaged from the upcoming election. 

This isn’t necessarily a surprise when we consider that for years, right-wing lawmakers in the South have pursued a strategy of discouraging or outright denying people opportunities to participate in democracy – especially those in this demographic group. 

Since the 2020 election in particular, Southern lawmakers have proposed hundreds of bills to silence the voices and votes of Black, Brown, Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native voters, voters with disabilities, young people and others pushed to the margins. And let’s be clear: These attempts to stifle participation are about maintaining power and control. They’re about who gets to shape the world we live in and who is seen, heard and valued in our democracy.

For too long, Black and Brown people in the South have experienced what it means to be shut out of the rooms where decisions are made – and know too well the consequences of terrible policy decisions, sometimes repeated over decades, that further entrench systemic racism and economic inequality.

It doesn’t have to be that way. With our vote, we can usher in a new way of caring for each other and our communities – and young people know it.

Our survey found that despite the low motivation to vote and low perceived voting power due to structural barriers to the ballot and the current political climate, a majority of young people of color in the South still see voting as the most effective way for them to create change in their communities.

This data tells an important story. In the face of all the attempts to diminish the voting strength of young people of color, these young people still have faith in their vote and our democracy, and they’re willing to act to make America meet its promise.

The South’s Got Now | Decidimos is designed to help them do just that. It is an on-ramp for young people to fight for the issues that matter most to them – to fight for affordable and inclusive education, access to health care, safe drinking water, reproductive justice, the environment and so much more. 

One of our first initiatives through the campaign is led by our Mississippi State Office, which will bring young people together with faith leaders, civic groups and long-time civil rights activists who are committed to building and sustaining a progressive voting ecosystem in Mississippi.

In 2023, Mississippi came the closest it has been since 1999 to electing a progressive governor. The 2023 election was decided by approximately 26,619 votes. This state-based campaign, Mississippi’s Got Now: The Road to 60, is a voter registration effort that seeks to register 60,000 new or inactive voters in Mississippi to ultimately increase our voter turnout by 44%. Change is within our grasp. 

It’s on all of us to believe in the possibility of a better future – so register, vote and participate. Your voice matters. 

To learn more, visit The South’s Got Now | Decidimos.

Photo at top: “With our vote, we can usher in a new way of caring for each other and our communities – and young people know it,” says Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Credit: Gem Hale)