A cohort of youth-led organizations has asked the incoming Biden administration to create official positions aimed at engaging younger Americans.
The groups have drafted a memo asking the Biden administration to build an “Office of Young Americans” within the Executive Office of the President. They have also asked the administration to appoint a “Director of Youth Engagement” – who they say should be a member of Gen Z – to sit on the Domestic Policy Council and engage with the National Security Council. Additionally, they requested that the administration engage young Americans across all administration agencies and devote a specific person in the Office of Presidential Personnel to hiring young Americans into government.
“We come together as a diverse array of organizations led by and serving youth to call on the Biden-Harris administration to represent and reflect young people across the Executive Branch,” the groups write in the memo, shared first with CNN.
The memo has so far been signed by more than a dozen youth-led organizations, including civic engagement organization 18by Vote, education organization Student Voice, gun violence prevention organization March For Our Lives, immigrant rights organization United We Dream and Future Coalition, a national network of youth organizers.
Those involved in writing the memo say young people have the unique experience of dealing with multiple crises at once – Covid-19, economic downturn, racial injustice, climate change and now the insurrection at the US Capitol and the domestic terrorist threats that have followed – and can help play a key role in Biden’s mission to “build back better,” the President-elect’s effort to create jobs and rebuild the economy.
“I am 23 years old and have lived through more unprecedented historical events than I can count. From 9/11, to extreme weather events, living in a continual state of economic recession, losing family members to a global pandemic, or seeing the United States Capitol ransacked by right-wing domestic terrorists. In all of these things, the first-hand experience of young people is invaluable. There’s no way to fully understand that unless you have lived that,” Jazmin Kay, executive director of 18by Vote and one of the authors of the memo, told CNN.
“Our brains are wired to be curious right now and to want to think of solutions,” Kay added.
The memo was sent to the Biden transition team and will be sent to the incoming administration.
For its part, the Biden transition team has involved young voices in its discussion.
The transition team held weekly youth stakeholder meetings and listening sessions on topics including student debt, racial justice, mental health, foster youth, hunger and homelessness, gun violence prevention and democracy reform, Cameron French, a Biden transition spokesperson, told CNN. The conversations were led by Hannah Bristol, a member of the Biden transition team, whose primary role was to engage young people. Bristol had previously organized Young Americans for Biden, the youth-focused arm of the Biden campaign.
The transition team also brought organizations such as Student Voice into deeper policy discussions and planning through conversation with the Department of Education’s Agency Review Team, French added.
“Over 80 million Americans, including many under the age of 25, supported President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris’ vision to get the pandemic under control and build our economy to work for all. Young people will play a critical role in helping our nation tackle some of our toughest challenges from climate change to immigration, gun violence prevention to racial justice,” French said. “The incoming Biden-Harris administration will continue to put an emphasis on creating opportunities for young people to shape, guide and participate in the government-wide effort to build back better.”
According to a number of young leaders who have signed onto the memo and were part of the youth stakeholder calls, the conversations gave young people across the country a look into the decisions the Biden transition team was making when it came to Cabinet nominees and priorities.
And yet – while these young leaders are appreciative that Biden’s team has so far been willing to engage and hear their concerns – they say there is still more work to be done to ensure solutions moving forward.
Merrit Jones, who at 23 years old is the oldest member of the Student Voice team and one of the authors of the memo, said that Student Voice was fortunate to have adult allies on the Education Agency Review Team and that without them, it would have been really hard to engage in meaningful conversation with the transition team.
“That made it easier to navigate [the process], but even then it was difficult,” Jones said, noting the need for students to have formal roles in the Biden administration.
While young people recognize the historic diversity of Biden’s Cabinet picks, they say the incoming administration could make a commitment to hiring people under the age of 25.
“It’s important to fill roles within the administration with young staffers who reflect the diverse population of young people in the US and who have a deep knowledge and lived experience of the issues and youth organizing work,” Jones added.
While drafting the memo, the groups were advised by a number of former Obama administration officials, including Bo Machayo, who worked in the Office of Public Engagement for the White House council on environmental quality under the Obama administration when he was 24 years old.
“Having served in the [Obama] administration, I realize the importance of young Americans being involved in policy making decisions and engagement opportunities,” Machayo, now 29, told CNN.
“I think this proposal and memo really makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of great diversity in this coalition, and this memo will help drive administration priorities with a particular eye to young Americans,” Machayo said.
“The more we have young Americans involved in government, the more it starts working for the next generation of Americans,” he added.