Youth organizers take on state legislatures

Young people have been at the forefront of the most critical fights for our communities taking place in state legislatures. Alliance Network organizations are mobilizing their communities to pass innovative policies that strengthen our democracy and block harmful legislation that threatens it.  

Here is how they did it.

Building a Democracy Done Right

young people registering incarcerated citizens to vote at table inside the Cook County Jail

Chicago Votes | Voting in Prison

Chicago Votes has been leading some of the most revolutionary voting rights work through their Unlock Civics program. In 2019, they wrote and passed landmark legislation – the Voting in Jails bill – that expanded voting access for incarcerated citizens who were eligible to vote. Now, they are organizing to pass new legislation they wrote that would restore voting rights to people in prison. Learn more about their 2021 Unlock Civic Policy Platform here.

Next Up | Voting Rights Restoration & Lowering the Voting Age

Next Up is co-leading landmark legislation that would restore voting rights to incarcerated Oregonians. This bill would not only restore voting rights, it would also address the disproportionate silencing of the voices of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx citizens due to their higher rates of imprisonment. Next Up is also leading legislation that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections.

The Washington Bus | Restoring Voting Rights

The Washington Bus helped to pass legislation that automatically restores voting rights to people convicted of a felony.

Advocating for Students

Leaders Igniting Transformation | Divesting from Campus Police

Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) is fighting for an end to the policing and criminalization of BIPOC populations on Wisconsin’s public university and college campuses by divesting financial resources from policing and reinvesting those funds into restorative justice, community care, and supporting BIPOC populations.

New Era Colorado | Student Loan Equity & Improving Financial Literacy

New Era Colorado helped lead the passage of the Student Loan Equity Act—a trailblazing bill that would create protections for private student loan borrowers in Colorado. Right now, private student loans don’t receive many of the basic protections afforded to borrowers of other types of loans. As a result, borrowers are vulnerable to shady loan industry practices, like robo signing and auto-defaulting. Their bill protects these borrowers, creates greater transparency, and offers better recourse if lenders break the law. New Era Colorado is also leading legislation that would dramatically improve the existing financial literacy education provided to high school students. The legislation would update school standards for financial literacy to include costs of obtaining a degree, student loan information, financial aid information, how to save for retirement, and how to manage credit cards.

Ohio Student Association | Fighting the Transcript Trap

The Ohio Student Association has mobilized their student base to fight back against the Transcript Trap — a punitive practice that penalizes students with debts to their institution until repayment is complete by withholding transcripts.

Virginia Student Power Network | Financial Aid for Undocumented Students

Virginia Student Power Network worked in a broad coalition and engaged 30 student leaders to advocate for and pass in-state tuition for undocumented students. This makes Virginia the seventh state in the nation to give undocumented students access to state financial aid!

Other Major Legislation

Chicago Votes | Ending Prison Slave Labor

Chicago Votes is leading legislation that would expand the state minimum wage to include people serving a sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections and increase the state pay to all people in Illinois prisons.

Forward Montana | Indigenous People’s Rights

Forward Montana worked in coalition to pass legislation that would extend the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force beyond its termination date later this year and require the task force to examine and report on the causes contributing to missing indigenous persons cases.Forward Montana helped pass legislation that would extend the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force beyond its termination date later this year and require the task force to examine and report on the causes contributing to missing indigenous persons cases.

The Washington Bus | Banning For-Profit Private Prisons

The Washington Bus worked in coalition with advocates to approve a ban on private, for-profit prisons. As a result, the Northwest Detention Center, the private immigrant detention center in Tacoma, WA, will be closed by 2025.

Fighting harmful legislation

Alliance Network organizations also faced a hostile and aggressive legislative environment where conservative legislators threatened the right to vote, the right to protest, the right to healthcare, and more.

  • Forward Montana led a fierce accountability campaign to call out electeds for supporting legislation that would strip voting rights, harm the LGBTQIA community, and allow guns on campus.  
  • Loud Light activated youth organizers across the state to call their legislators and fight against two voter suppression bills. They also fought against legislation barring trans athletes from competing in school sports.
  • Mississippi Votes worked extensively to track and successfully block legislation that would restrict voting rights and mandate voting purges targeting low-income voters and communities of color.
  • MOVE Texas is one of the most powerful organizations in the state fighting back against racist voter suppression bills in Texas where Republican lawmakers focused more on undermining the freedom to vote than providing necessary relief from the pandemic or the winter freeze. But thanks to unrelenting commitment and dedication, MOVE Texas fought back to stop the horrible anti-voter legislation in its tracks during the final hours of the legislative session. They will continue the fight in a special session in July.
  • New Hampshire Youth Movement worked to defeat four anti-student voting rights bills by driving thousands of messages to lawmakers and turning out students from around the state to testify. One of these bills would have required student voters to provide proof they pay in-state tuition to cast a ballot. 

Thanks to the tenacity of these organizations, some of these harmful pieces of legislation were blocked. However, some of them did pass but this does not mean organizations are backing down. Forward Montana is suing the state over legislation that, if implemented, may face steep penalties for conducting voter engagement activities on college campuses. Loud Light is suing the state of Kansas over a voter suppression law that makes it more difficult for their organizers to register voters. 

Even after state legislative sessions come to a close, youth organizers will keep fighting from the streets to the ballot box to ensure that young people’s priorities are elevated.