It’s been a hell of a year… but hope is far from lost. It’s alive and well and in your hands.

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Illustration by Mekhi Baldwin

The list of horrible things that have happened in 2020 is long and feels longer by the day. It’s been a year of bad piled on top of awful piled on top of tragic — piled on top of rises in housing insecurity, food insecurity, climate insecurity, job insecurity, economic insecurity… and the impact of centuries of racism.

Living in this time, in this America, is hard — and millennial adults are disproportionately feeling the weight of it.

In their April 2020, Data for Progress published The Staggering Economic Impact of Coronavirus, a report filled, as the name implies, with staggering statistics — including this one: The percentage of people under the age of 45 who had “lost a job, been put on leave, or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic” was 52 percent, double that of people over 45. And of those under 45, a whopping 67 percent said they could survive without their normal income for a month or less before being unable to pay bills.

For many of us, growing up in the millennial mindset has meant growing up without an abundance of long-term hope. We’ve all seen the headlines marking millennials as everything from “the new lost generation” to just plain screwed. The grim outlook, if we want to avoid it, forces us to live in the moment — now more than ever — and take charge of bringing hope to the future.

Younger adults — millennial and some of the older Gen Z-ers in their early 20s — have witnessed trauma virtually from birth, living through 9/11, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, multiple deadly shootings at schools and elsewhere, two recessions — and now a global pandemic which has killed over a million people worldwide. The ripple effect of COVID-19 will be felt for years, or longer, impacting everything from travel to jobs.

Younger adults in the U.S. have grown up watching trauma and experiencing how to live with it. Millennials, many of us now parents raising our own new generation, have witnessed the same events, but from a different perspective.

In both cases, the ability to look forward and find measures of hope has become increasingly essential for survival.

So yeah, things are bleak and the horizon looks stormy. How can we not feel hopeless? What can we pin our hopes on? We might not have a vaccine right now. Some of us are building a support system in our new normal, while struggling to figure out our place in a country that’s fighting to beat climate change, provide healthcare, and bring hope to all generations. We don’t have the power to erase inequities or global warming in one fell swoop.

But what we do have is an election — one that symbolizes an opportunity for change, hope, and a happier horizon.

On the surface, for many of us, the upcoming election is generating anxiety above all else. Anxiety has pretty much dominated the zeitgeist throughout 2020 with campaigns of distrust, division, and disinformation fanning the flames.

But you’ve spent this year with anxiety already. Remember the times you got a handle on it? How you got it under your control? Voting is just another avenue for enacting your control — voting early might even alleviate some of that anxiety.

Most importantly, we can’t let anxiety lead us to question whether our vote matters. IT DOES. No matter what you hear or read, it matters. Regardless of state, age, race, felony history, homelessness, disability, gender identity, income, it matters.

There are 519,000 elected officials in the United States — not just one… And your votes absolutely matter.

Greatist talked to Debra Cleaver, the founder of VoteAmerica, who has this to say about why every vote carries tremendous weight: “If you live in a state that isn’t considered a swing state for the presidential election, it’s important to remember that there are 519,000 elected officials in the United States — not just one. And there is absolutely a statewide election or a citywide election or a local election on your ballot in November. And your votes absolutely matter.”

We also asked Cleaver what we should all know to stay strong, smart, and in charge of our vote, starting with the realities of voter suppression.

“Voter suppression is a real thing in America, and it’s targeted primarily at people of color. And after people of color, young people. To give you an example of the way young people are targeted: A lot of states won’t accept a student ID as an ID, even if you go to a state school. In Texas, if you go to the University of Texas at Austin, the ID is issued by the state of Texas, and Texas doesn’t consider it a state-issued ID. But they’ll accept your gun license.”

She offers these tips to make sure you’re 100 percent ready and armed with the proper ID (and make-it-happen mindset!) come voting day:

  • Make sure you have the ID you need to vote in your state. If you don’t know what your state’s rules are, all the info can be found here.
  • If you have an in-state driver’s license or an in-state ID, use that.
  • No in-state driver’s license? Have one photo ID and one piece of paper that shows your name and address.

For more info, check out our full interview with Debra who is a wealth of information! — along with Greatist’s step-by-step voter guide.

So back to that hope shortage that has become such a trademark for millennials. Ironically, in this unpredictable, upside-down year, studies are indicating that 2020 has been a turning point. And chances are you’ve felt it.

In June, Forbes discussed the shift in “Resilient Generations Hold The Key To Creating A ‘Better Normal'”:

It’s too early to know how the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately change society. But the response of millennials and Generation Z, battle-hardened and steadfast in maintaining their values, will be key.

The findings come from the 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey which “reveals a younger generation whose resilience and determination will surely shape the world that emerges… They are deeply affected by the pandemic but seem able to see opportunity in the darkness, viewing this crisis as an opportunity to reset and drive the change they want to see. Millennials and Gen Zs aren’t just hoping for a better world to emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic releases its grip on society — they want to lead the change.”

As for younger adults, an early survey results from February 2020 indicated that 18- to 24-year-olds had the least interest in politics — but as the year has progressed, we’ve seen that to be untrue. Politics — from handling a pandemic to racial justice — define the lens the younger generation looks through. It’s why the protests have gone on strong, and why young Americans have advocated for change outside of traditional comfort zones.

“Young people can decide elections, and their participation is central to our politics.”

As we know, things changed dramatically since February, in the midst of coronavirus and ongoing police violence and racial unrest.

In early August of this year, the Knight Foundation commissioned a national poll of 4,000 full-time college students in the U.S. “College Students, Voting and the COVID-19 Election” found that young voters were highly engaged and highly interested in taking ownership of change.

Strength in numbers

47 million 18- to 29-year-olds are eligible to vote in 2020 including 15 million who turned 18 since the 2016 presidential election.

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CIRCLE, the nonpartisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement based out of Tufts University, uncovered similar findings in their June 2020 national poll of young Americans. It revealed that “despite — or perhaps because of — the interconnected crises shaping American life, young people are interested and engaged in the 2020 election, believe they can make a difference, and stand ready to make their voices heard.”

  • 83 percent believe young people have the power to change the country.
  • 79 percent say the COVID-19 pandemic helped them realize that politics impact their everyday lives.
  • 27 percent say they have attended a march or demonstration, a dramatic increase over 2016 (5 percent).
  • Racism, the environment, and affordable healthcare are the top three issues most important in driving their vote this November.

But CIRCLE’s poll also found that 32 percent did not know if they could register online to vote in their state, and that unclear information about registration and mail-in voting was a drawback for many voters… which is why we’re here to help!

We want to help make voting as simple as possible in this anxious and uncomfortable year. So here it is in three easy steps:

  • Have a plan. Don’t know where to start? We put together a comprehensive step-by-step, along with an interactive guide that walks you through it all. If you have more questions, VoteAmerica provides access all the resources you need in one place.
  • Get your flu shot. If you plan to head to the polls in person, get your flu shot in October. (Get it regardless!)
  • Simplify. Tune out the noise (news, social media, even friends and family) and tune into you. Focus on what kind of life, health, and country you want to live in for the next 4 years. Do you want unity? If so, who’s going to bring it? Do you want a renewed focus on climate change — who will bring that? Do you want honest and healing conversations about race in this country? Who will bring that? What matters to you?

Above all, remember that you own your vote — only you determine why and how it matters — and that goes double for Americans of color. “For communities of color and Black Americans in particular,” says Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, PhD, “the personal has always been political and this year, maybe more than in others, our vote represents a testament to our humanity and for some, the outcome of the election is a bold statement on how society values their very existence.”

By all accounts, 2020 has been one for the record books. So, if you still need a ray of hope to get you through the next few months of this year, consider this:

The same Gen Z-ers and millennials who have lived through unimaginable crises have also witnessed the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Justice; the first Black U.S. president; the legalization of marijuana in some states; the birth of the iPhone and the iPod; and a landmark Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage.

Yes, it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. But in the next 2 months, it can get a lot better.

Hope is not lost. Sometimes it just needs a reboot.

Wishing everyone a safe and stress-free Election Day, and brighter days ahead.

— Rita Mauceri, Editor-in-Chief