Over the past two legislative sessions, a grassroots group of young Georgians has gotten a firsthand taste of life under the Gold Dome as junior lobbyists—for better or worse. Instead of getting frustrated with the fraught nature of electoral politics, the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition (GYJC) is getting more organized.
On Monday, more than a dozen high school and college students from the group announced their first-ever Young People’s Platform. The eight planks include racial justice, education funding, workers’ rights, and climateIn the lead up to the next legislative session starting in January, they said, GYJC will present their specific policy demands to lawmakers, backed by thousands of signatures.
“This platform is a culmination of all of the work that we’ve been doing to make sure that young people’s voices get more and more of a place in Georgia politics,” said Yana Batra, an 18-year-old sophomore at Georgia Tech.
“Now that we’ve built a base of hundreds of activated young people, it’s time to say, ‘Okay, what do we want?’ so that we’re not constantly reacting to harmful legislation and attempts to censor our classrooms,” Batra said. “We’d rather be proactive and say this is what we want to achieve with the future we’re inheriting.”
The organizers purposely held the Aug. 30 press conference to unveil the Young People’s Platform in front of the John Lewis mural in Sweet Auburn on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington — the day Black leaders articulated a national civil rights and economic justice agenda in Washington, D.C.
“[Lewis] was a student activist advocating for justice with the National Student Movement … and made his voice heard as both an organizer and the youngest speaker in the original March on Washington,” said Jordan Madden, a junior at Georgia State University.
“We gather to say that there’s still so much to fight for sixty years later,” Madden said. “Every day, young Georgians — black, brown, LGBTQ+, and working class — are organizing in the streets and at the ballot box against the legacy of the same forces that civil rights leaders from Atlanta and all across the South were facing.”
To craft its platform, GYJC surveyed over 500 young Georgians from 95 cities and 47 counties to find out what issues they cared most about. Based on that input, they’re focusing on:
- Education Justice
- LGBTQ+ Rights
- Racial Justice
- Reproductive Justice
- Workers Rights
- Gun Safety
- Climate Change
Public transportation was one issue that didn’t make the cut. It was important to Atlantans and residents of other Georgia cities, but not so much for rural young Georgians.
“What we tried to focus on most was immediate quality of life and issues that would unite – not just urban Georgians, not just rural Georgians – but everybody,” said Batra.
Even though the next Georgia legislative session is still four months away, GYJC members are already engaging with state lawmakers.
At an Aug. 23 Health and Human Services committee meeting, several members testified against Senate Bill 88. The bill, which stalled in last year’s session, would bar schools from recognizing a student’s change in gender unless it is reflected on their birth certificate. SB88 also would restrict teachers from discussing gender identity with students unless their parents had signed off.
GYJC’s strategy is to lobbying decision-makers throughout the year, because the legislative session happens fast – running from only January to April – and it meets on weekdays, when students are in class.
“Georgia’s session is 40 days, and it’s ridiculously short, and it happens in a way that’s not very accessible to students,” said Batra. “What is accessible to students is engaging in this whole lifecycle of an electoral system that only starts at the ballot box. [It] continues all the way through engaging with electeds and making our voices heard at hearings.”
Learn more about the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition.
The GYJC is still soliciting input from high school and college students for its Young People’s Platform. Take the survey here. To find out what local events they’re involved with, check their event page.