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Youth activists share how people too young to vote can participate in the election

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The 2020 election will massively shape the conditions of the world in which young people grow up, but those who are under 18 are in a unique position: Their future rests on the outcome of the election, yet they can’t vote themselves.

“We have to save November to save our planet,” Alexandria Villaseñor, a 15-year-old climate justice activist and the founder of Earth Uprising, says. “Climate change is the number one voting issue to young people, and it’s because it’s going to impact every aspect of our lives.” 

Chanté Davis, a 16-year-old involved with the youth-led climate justice organization, the Sunrise Movement, in Houston, Texas feels similarly about the election. “The election is probably one of the most important we’re going to encounter in our lives,” Davis says, in reference to young people. “While you can’t vote, your future is still being affected. Despair and climate anxiety are rampant. Things need to change now.” 

Allie Aguilera DiMuzio, director of civic partnerships and campaigns at Rock the Vote, notes that while you often hear talk of an election being the most important of all time, “This year, it’s true. It’s the most important election of [young people’s] lifetimes.” 

“Even if young people are too young to vote, they have the opportunity to shape the direction of the country moving forward,” Aguilera DiMuzio says. “I think there’s a question here about who gets to decide what the future of our country looks like. It’s clear young people can’t wait on the sidelines.” 

We talked to youth activists who can’t vote in the 2020 election — Villaseñor and Davis, as well as 16-year-old Makayla Jordan, a gun control advocate involved with Students Demand Action, and 14-year-old Haven Coleman, a climate organizer and activist — about what other people who are too young to vote can do to get involved with the election. Here’s what they had to say. 

1. Register people to vote 

One of the most crucial things you can do for the election, even if you can’t vote yourself, is simple: Make sure that other people do

For starters, Villaseñor and Davis suggest using social media to inform and mobilize voters. The easiest way is by simply sharing information about voter registration, which you’ve probably seen plenty of people do already.

Davis also recommends carefully researching the specifics about the election in your area, including information about polling places or candidates’ platforms, and sharing relevant information on social media. (You’ll want to take extreme caution in getting voter information from official sources, and making sure it as up to date as possible.)

In addition, you can also get involved with voter registration efforts, either in-person or through phone and text banking, happening in your local community, as well as ones organized by voting mobilization groups, like When We All Vote and Rock the Vote. (Of course, this is an especially unique election year, and there are pandemic-specific precautions that you should consider with in-person efforts. You can learn about safe get out the vote options here.) 

When speaking to anyone about voting, Aguilera DiMuzio recommends relational organizing, which is built on the idea that we’re more likely to take action if goaded by friends. She points to Rock the Vote’s app, Empower, which lets you text friends preloaded calls to action and other resources. 

Relational organizing can be done without established tools or organizations, too, Jordan points out. She’s 16 despite being a senior in high school. That means some of her classmates will be eligible to vote even though she isn’t. If you have friends (and family members) who are eligible to vote, of course you want to first check that they’re registered (and help them access information about registering if they’re not.) Once you’ve done that, though, Jordan also recommends initiating conversations about why you care about the election and voting. 

“I would be so happy if I could vote [because] my vote matters; your vote matters,” Jordan says. “Every single vote matters.”  

2. Help fight for a free and fair election 

In recent elections, the average age of poll workers has skewed old. But this time around, many older Americans, logically fearing for their safety in light of the coronavirus pandemic, will need to sit out this year. That means polling places may be short-staffed.

But poll workers are essential for ensuring the timeliness and ease of voting, and for keeping polling places open. To that end, there are efforts underway to recruit young people to volunteer as poll workers and ensure that polling places are adequately staffed, such as the nonpartisan initiative Power the Polls

Similarly, Davis and Aguilera DiMuzio encourage young people who are too young to vote to look into volunteering as a poll worker. Eligibility requirements vary based on where you live: Though some states require poll workers to be 18, plenty don’t. You can look into the specific poll worker eligibility requirements for your state here. To find more info on how to apply to be a poll worker, head to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission or National Association of Secretaries of State websites. (You’ll want to do this as early as possible. The Cut wrote about what being a poll worker entails here.) 

Outside of volunteering as a poll worker, there are other things youth under 18 can do to “make sure voting is happening successfully,” Aguilera DiMuzio points out. That’s especially important this year: It’s possible (if not likely) that both unintentional and intentional voter suppression will occur during the 2020 election. 

“Think about how you can contribute to a full and fair election,” she says. To this end, Aguilera DiMuzio suggests supporting the efforts of groups doing election protection work.

Election protection services inform voters about the voting process, helping them navigate barriers to voting that might arise, including moved polling places or intimidation from polling officials or others.

She suggests volunteering with an election protection hotline, which people call if they run into a barrier while voting, like not receiving required assistance or learning a polling place was closed without notice. She maintains youth under 18 are often allowed to volunteer. (You can do election protection work locally, or through organizations or campaigns, and Election Protection (866 Our Vote) is a good central resource to find those opportunities, Aguilera DiMuzio notes.)

3. Share your own story 

Jordan, Davis, Villaseñor, and Coleman, like many youth activists, are mobilized around issues that matter to them specifically because they are young: Jordan detailed to Mashable her desire to go to school free from fear of gun violence, while climate activists Davis, Villaseñor, and Coleman maintained that their generation’s future is entirely dependent on bold, aggressive action on climate change.

To that end, even though you can’t vote, as a young person impacted by politics, there’s a lot of power in your own story, Villaseñor and Davis maintain. That’s something you can share on social media, to call attention to the issues and candidates you care most about on the ballot. 

Coleman echoed the sentiment in an email to Mashable: “Our voices are the only way we can influence the election, and a lot of times, especially now during the pandemic, that means using social media to influence others to vote how we want the future to look.” 

With this in mind, Coleman recommends conveying the gravity of the climate crisis, as a voting issue, to family members who are older than you: “Talk to people you know and ask them to vote for our future, or to ‘give you’ their vote. Tell them how the climate crisis is here already, that it will affect them in their lifetime, if it hasn’t already. This is something that’s not getting across to people, that climate change is here and it’s affecting us now. Youth need to get that message out to their families.”

Davis, who has often utilized social media storytelling while working with the Sunrise Movement, knows the tactic well. In August, Davis created a video for the organization chronicling her experiences with climate change-fueled natural disasters. In it, she explains how her family moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina, only to later experience Hurricane Harvey and, most recently, Hurricane Laura. 

You don’t need to make a video like Davis; these tactics also work as you make any kind of post online. She recommends first building the “story of self,” explaining how your own life has been touched by chronic, economic or environmental disaster (or whatever other cause you’re trying to bring attention to). 

From there, she recommends expanding to the “story of us.” In short, try to bind people together to find common ground on the issue or candidate. Once you’ve built this sense of community, Davis says you should then include a call to action, whether that’s voting, voting a certain way on an issue, encouraging others to volunteer as poll workers, or something else, so that they can identify a clear way to turn your message into action.

4. Manage social media criticism 

As a young person — and particularly a young person who can’t vote yet — it’s possible that you’ll encounter pushback from older people online who either underestimate your knowledge, or question your dedication to the outcome of an election you can’t even vote in. “I know a lot of adults think you’re young, you don’t know anything about what’s going on, but that’s super untrue,” Jordan points out. 

Though condescending language from adults could occur anywhere, it’s important to have plans for addressing it online, where it’s especially likely to occur. 

Villaseñor recently experienced some of this herself. Just as the massive wildfires ravaging the West Coast were ramping up, she tweeted about what she saw as a lack of media coverage of the fires. That came from the heart: Villaseñor had just returned to New York from California when she sent that tweet, and she was worried about family members who were still in California. 

Many people, including reporters, interpreted Villaseñor’s tweet literally, since she claimed no major outlets were reporting on the fires. They went out of their way to correct Villaseñor, and point out what they felt was extensive fire coverage.

But that wasn’t her point. She was concerned with a much larger, longstanding lack of climate coverage in the media and how, in her opinion, the coverage was downplayed on news homepages. Saying that no major outlets were covering the fires didn’t necessarily mean no outlets were covering them at all — in Villaseñor’s eyes, they simply weren’t being treated as the top story of the day when they should’ve been. 

Though the experience was a bit rattling, it was nothing new for Villaseñor, who has to regularly deal with climate-deniers and trolls online.

For young people dealing with negative comments online in response to election-related posts, she recommends first confirming the account isn’t a bot. (You can find tips for identifying bots here.) If it’s coming from a real person, there might be situations that warrant a reply, but by and large, Villaseñor recommends taking notes from the youth-led climate movement, which tries to ignore climate deniers, for instance. If people refuse to believe science and basic facts, there’s no need to engage.

She recommends focusing on building support among other young people, instead of wasting time responding to adults who might be condescending: “You put yourself out there to rally other young people. There are so many people making an effort to push the needle.” 

Davis backs that mentality up. She’s learned it’s important to build “a really tight knit community [online, and] push off the negative comments.” Rather than focusing on the naysayers, she wants young people to instead focus on the “wave of change” you’re creating. 

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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