As we begin 2024, I have seen increased commentary about Gen Z being a  wasted generation.” There is a myth that Gen Z has decided to disengage from politics and democracy. They won’t vote. That’s the thrust of the argument. But it is not what I see as the leader of an organization that unleashes Gen Z women’s political power. In fact, it’s false. It seems designed to stoke cross-generational resentment, but it doesn’t reflect the truth.

Let me be clear. Young people, including those who comprise our IGNITE community, are the future of this country. They’re Black and Brown and LGBTQ+. In fact, they are the most diverse generation this country has seen. 

It is true that they have been through challenging formative experiences. COVID-19 reshaped their lives and development in huge ways. Compared to previous generations, they have had fewer romantic experiences. They’re less likely to hold down part-time jobs. They take part in religious communities less. They use technology much more. They are different from previous generations. Still, I know and feel they are well-equipped to change the world. They inspire me to get out of bed every single morning, and they are ready to dig deep.

America’s current political candidates may not be drawing in Gen Z. They need to fix that if they’re looking to win in 2024. Our research shows Gen Z also responds well to seeing more diverse political candidates. But that doesn’t mean young people are apathetic or do not understand the issues. We need a clearer link from policymakers to the problems Gen Z cares about. That’s all.

Key issues driving Gen Z to the ballot box include climate change, abortion, mass shootings and mental health. All these issues reached crisis levels last year. It was the hottest year on record. Abortion rights triumphed on the November ballot after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. America broke the record for most mass shootings in a year as the leader of the National Rifle Association faced trial for graft allegations. The Centers for Disease Control released a report saying teen girls face an extreme wave of sadness and violence. The world is on fire as far as Gen Z priorities go. Candidates need to make the connection between these issues and how a vote for them will drive meaningful change.

Meanwhile, at IGNITE, we know young women are showing up to lead. Gen Z women are rising nationwide, making their voices heard. The tens of thousands of young people participating in IGNITE programs are already models of political and civic impact. Research shows they engage in political actions 28 percent more than their peers. 

In the 2022 midterm elections, 96 percent of our participants voted. In 2022-2023, more than 600 IGNITE participants advocated for policy change. They affected 20 policies and bills on a wide range of issues. They spent hundreds of hours calling, writing, using social media, and meeting with legislators to make their voices heard.

Student-led IGNITE chapters are also normalizing and building political and civic participation on campuses nationwide. For example, most colleges in America do not offer rape kits on campus, and some school officials and healthcare experts have resisted demands to do so. Against that backdrop, more than 75 members of IGNITE’s college chapter at UCLA went on a successful mission to increase students’ access to Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence exams across the University of California campuses. They advocated for a bill, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2023, that requires most California universities and colleges to provide transportation for students to and from a sexual assault treatment center.

Unleashing Gen Z political power is about more than running for office. But it includes running for office, and 18 members of our IGNITE community also ran for office last year. They include Munira Abdullahi, the youngest Somali American to serve in the Ohio State House; Mary Black, the youngest City Council member in Raleigh, N.C.; and Kristen Gonzalez, who won a state senate seat in New York.

The point is this. The only thing authentic about the “wasted generation” argument is wasted breath. Gen Z don’t mind if you want to hate on them. They shake it off. They keep their eyes focused on their priority issues. They vote. They run. And they are leading America forward. No wonder some commentators are so intent on making up false narratives about them. It only shows how powerful they already are.