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Youth Voice In Democracy


In the 1990’s, California experienced a wave of attacks on immigrants, youth, Black and LGBTQ communities that are reminiscent of what we are experiencing nationally today. Those dark years in California gave rise to powerful community organizing groups committed to mobilizing people of color to make their voices heard in our democracy. As one of the groups founded at that time, Californians for Justice took on ambitious goals to shift the demographics of who votes in California, develop the next generation of young movement leaders, and shape local and statewide policies to create more opportunities for communities of color to thrive.

Decades later, we are seeing the rise of progressive policies in California that have improved access to quality schools, fair wages, health care, and housing, and reduced the criminalization of people of color. We are seeing more diverse leadership among our elected officials and rapid growth in voting among people of color.

These positive changes were not an accident but rather a result of a long-term commitment to building grassroots voice and power. At Californians for Justice, we focus on young people of color because they are often at the forefront of social movements for equity and justice, such as the civil rights movement, the Dreamers, and more recently Black Lives Matter and the March for Our Lives. Each year we activate thousands of young people of color through our voter engagement, leadership development, and school governance strategies.  


The Issue

“Some of the challenges I faced during elections is seeing the disempowerment that has consistently pushed youth to believe that they cannot make a difference with their vote. I personally encountered many people who told me that they did not want to register to vote simply because their vote “doesn’t matter” or “doesn’t count for anything” so they would rather not waste their time.”- Janice Mendez, CFJ Youth leader

Even though younger voters (18-30) are the largest age group in the state, only 8% of them actually vote!

  • 1 out of 3 Californians is a Millennial
  • 7 out of 10 Millennials are people of color, and over half are children of immigrants
  • 6 out of 10 students in California public schools experience an “opportunity gap” severely limiting their access to civic learning torlakson task force report]

Low voting rates among young people are a symptom of the overall disinvestment in youth of color that has led them to believe that their voice, their vote, and their needs don’t matter.

The Solution?

We need to join together to make youth leadership, civic engagement, and agency the norm, not the exception. We can continue to build momentum for a more fair and racially just future by:

  • supporting diverse youth leaders to use their voice in decision-making in their schools, in district board rooms, and at the state capitol
  • doing mass organizing work through voter engagement and advocacy campaigns that focus on issues young people care about, and
  • providing leadership development to youth of color and other marginalized youth to build their skills so they can stand up for what they believe in now and into adulthood.


Californians for Justice is advancing youth voices in democracy through voter engagement, leadership development, and school governance to build a more fair and racially just future.

“Even though I am not allowed to vote in elections because of my age, getting out the vote is the most important thing I can do to raise my voice as a young person of color. Getting out the vote is bigger than anyone can imagine. The more we get out the vote, the more we are heard and seen.”

– Yaritza Garcia, CFJ Youth Leader


Actions We're Taking

Voter Engagement

Californians for Justice contacts thousands of young voters of color in our four regions each year to get them out to the polls and to use their voice to impact the issues affecting them and their families. Youth are taking active roles in leading “Get out the Vote” drives, voter education events, and youth-centered candidate forums for local elections. We are also working with other organizations around the state to engage young voters in creating a Young People’s Agenda around issues that are most critical to them.

Leadership Development

Through Californians for Justice’s organizing programs, young people are not just making this world a better place for those around them through advocacy, but are building up their own skills and commitment to social justice and civic engagement that sticks with them throughout their lives. Over the years, Californians for Justice has engaged more than 2,000 young people in learning to use their voice and engage their peers in realizing their power. We recently launched the Youth Organize! California Network along with a dozen other youth organizations that will build organizational capacity for youth leadership and organizing across the state.

School Governance

In 2013, CFJ’s Student Voice Campaign won strong requirements for districts to engage youth in budget decision-making each year through the Local Control and Accountability Plan process. Because of that victory, CFJ youth leaders are participating in some of the first-ever Student Advisory Committees to provide meaningful input into how school districts and schools are prioritizing funding. At the school site level, youth are flexing their voice and power by engaging in site councils and school improvement work through things like Culture and Climate Committees.

“Student involvement is not only a testament to the deep concern students share about their future and the futures of those who are to come behind them, but their advocacy is paramount to the change needed in California’s public education system.”

– Ryan Smith, Executive Director, Education Trust-West

Join the Fight for Racial and Educational Justice!
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