Staring down the most significant election of our lifetimes, what do you do with all of this political anxiety?

Staring down the most significant election of our lifetimes, what do you do with all of this political anxiety?
Young people in action: Sarah Hegde, left, and Ivy Pete.

Aquick thought experiment: Imagine you're a progressive voter whose concerns run toward the environment, affordable health care, sensible gun laws, racial and economic justice. Or a moderate worried about government ethics, our response to coronavirus, and America's standing in the world. Or, for that matter, just imagine you're a sentient being exhausted by the barrage of inanities, illegalities and outright lies belched out daily by the Trump White House.

Six weeks before the most significant election of our lifetimes, what do you do with all of this political anxiety? Argue on social media? Actually read the campaign junk mail in your inbox? (Please, just send $5.) Stare into your cellphone all day, clicking back and forth between CNN and like some deranged metronome?

Especially now, in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, in a blue state where your vote isn't likely to matter much, what can you do to feel inspired, to not feel a sense of helplessness?

This week, I decided to check in with young voters. Specifically, Spokane teens Rosie Zhou and Jadyn Malone, 17-year-old seniors at Ferris and Lewis and Clark high schools, respectively, and two of the organizers of The Power of Youth: Taking Action for a Better Future, an online get-out-the-vote event this Saturday at 7 pm. Registration for the Zoom event can be found at

click to enlarge Staring down the most significant election of our lifetimes, what do you do with all of this political anxiety?
Jess Walter

Zhou and Malone are what happens when you run that same thought experiment on smart, informed teens, raised on a steady diet of active-shooter drills and terrifying climate change news, young people looking at spending the next sixty or seventy years contending with the results of an election only one of them is old enough to vote in. (Malone turns 18 just before the Nov. 3 election, Zhou just after.)

While many of their elders fret and scroll through our phones in these last interminable weeks, Zhou, Malone and a handful of other young activists decided to put their considerable energy into action.

"The issues in this election, they really affect us as young people," said Zhou. "It's important that we take action now and get involved."

They'd hoped to put on a live event in advance of National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 22, but with COVID-19 restrictions, they set their sights on virtual activism. Saturday's program will include artwork, poetry and spoken word from young local artists, open discussions and presentations from various groups about how young people can get involved.

"I feel like a lot of people, they might post something on Instagram and feel like they're doing their part," Zhou said. "But it's important to get involved with local groups and organizations, to speak up, challenge things that seem wrong to you."

Zhou and Malone contacted me earlier this year after I wrote pieces in the Inlander urging young people to become more politically active — voters 18 to 24 are typically half as likely to vote as older people. But that might be changing. In the 2018 midterms, the share of young voters grew by the largest margin of any age group.

"I think a lot of political movements now are centering young people more," Malone said. "With climate change, Black Lives Matter, gun violence prevention, I think that's sort of different from the past."

Saturday's get-out-the-vote event is a cooperative effort of Spokane's chapters of Students Demand Action and the environmental group Sunrise, the Peace & Justice Action League and Spokane Youth Votes.

Information and registration for the event are available on the Students Demand Action-Spokane Facebook and Instagram pages.

They are also working with the League of Women Voters, which will be registering voters at the following city and county library branches: Saturday, Sept. 19, on the South Hill 10 am to noon; Sept. 21, Spokane Valley Library, noon to 2 pm; Sept. 22, Deer Park Library, noon to 2 pm; Sept. 23, Argonne Library, noon to 2 pm; Sept. 24, Fairfield Post Office, noon to 2 pm; Sept. 25, Moran Prairie Library, noon to 2 pm; Sept. 26 Otis Orchards branch, noon to 2 pm. ♦

Jess Walter's new novel, The Cold Millions, will be released Oct. 26.

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