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Youth Coalition Demands 'Serious Discussion' of Key Progressive Issues at Democratic Presidential Debate

"In the last few democratic debates, there has been little to no discussion on the defining issues that face our generation like immigration, climate change, gun control, and mass incarceration."

youth leaders outside DNC

Representatives from youth organizations on Wednesday spoke about the importance of a robust debate in front of the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Sunrise Movement)

Ahead of Sunday's Democratic presidential primary debate between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a coalition of youth advocacy organizations on Thursday issued a pair of demands pressuring the Democratic National Committee and moderators to prioritize key progressive issues that haven't received much attention at past debates.

The groups behind the demands are Alliance for Youth Action, United We Dream Action, Sunrise Movement, March For Our Lives, Dream Defenders, NextGen America, and Student Action—some of which have endorsed Sanders. The senator's support from organizations like Sunrise and Dream Defenders reflects a broader trend that polling has shown in states that have held primaries and caucuses: Sanders is winning over younger voters while Biden, the frontrunner, is appealing to older Democrats.

"There is a generational divide in the Democratic Party," the coalition said Thursday. "But in 2020, Millennials and Generation Z represent the largest voting bloc in the country. To win in November, Democrats will need not just the votes of young people and the base of the party, but our energy and enthusiasm as well."

"From income and racial inequality, to immigration and migrant justice, to education, gun violence prevention, and the climate crisis—there has not been a serious discussion in this election cycle on the issues that face our generation," the coalition statement continued. "Ahead of Sunday's Democratic Debate, we are demanding that:

  1. CNN, Univision, and the DNC focus the discussion at the upcoming March 15th debate in Arizona to debate on the urgent issues facing our country, like climate change, immigration, education, gun violence, and racial justice.
  2. At the debate, the candidates lay out their plans to engage our generation in the democratic process and achieve record-breaking youth turnout in November and commit to meet with youth organizations to advance an agenda for our generation."

The debate was planned to be held in Phoenix, given that Arizona—along with Florida, Illinois, Ohio—has a primary scheduled for next week. However, DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa said Thursday that "out of an abundance of caution and in order to reduce cross-country travel, all parties have decided that the best path forward is to hold Sunday's debate at CNN's studio in Washington, D.C., with no live audience."

In addition to the relocation, which came in response to concerns about the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Hinojosa also announced that Univision anchor Jorge Ramos "has decided to step aside from participating" as a debate moderator. Although Ramos has been "cleared by medical professionals" and is currently symptom-free, he was recently "in proximity with someone who was in direct contact with a person that tested positive for coronavirus."

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The youth coalition issued its demands for the debate a day after representatives from the involved groups spoke about the importance of a robust debate in front of the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C. In their joint statement Thursday, leaders of the organizations echoed that point and highlighted the anticipated impact of youth voters on the primary race and the general election against President Donald Trump.

"Yes, we're fighting to take our country back from Donald Trump, but we're also fighting for a future we can all believe in—one where there's room for all of us, wherever we are from, or whomever we love—with education, healthcare, homes, jobs, a clean environment, and a fair economy for all."
—Adiel Pollydore, Student Action

"Young people are the energy and pathway to the White House for Democrats. The Democratic nominee must commit to engage with young people to build a broad coalition that advances a progressive agenda," said Cristina Jiménez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream Action. "It will be all of our collective responsibility to turn people out to vote and make a difference in the primary and the general election in November."

"In the last few democratic debates, there has been little to no discussion on the defining issues that face our generation like immigration, climate change, gun control, and mass incarceration," she added. "There is too much at stake in this election for these issues to be ignored. Young people are coming together to keep the Democratic Party and the nominee accountable."

Dream Defenders co-executive director Jonel Edwards declared that "young people all over the country are united right now by our need to see fundamental, progressive change from our government."

"Every time we see or experience a school shooting, a GoFundMe for medical bills, kids in cages, police violence, and inaction on the climate we are pushed further away from politics as usual," Edwards said. "If the Democratic Party wants to win in November, and survive in the future, it has a responsibility to meaningfully address and fight for policies that we care about. There is no reason good enough to leave the safety and stability of future generations off the table."

The youth leaders noted that they are working to encourage young voters to participate in the political process and urged the candidates to help that effort by discussing their stances on key issues the groups are championing.

"Yes, we're fighting to take our country back from Donald Trump," said Student Action program director Adiel Pollydore, "but we're also fighting for a future we can all believe in—one where there's room for all of us, wherever we are from, or whomever we love—with education, healthcare, homes, jobs, a clean environment, and a fair economy for all."

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