Girls on the Bus: Young Feminists are Reshaping Politics in Michigan

The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This post is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists.

Two years after helping Donald Trump secure the presidency, Michigan has a new, diverse group of candidates on the ballot—and a sizable group of young women excited to cast a vote for the first time.

“Young, female voters will be heading to the polls just as worried about the economy and climate change as our male counterparts,” says Alexandria Bertges, an intern for Michigan state Senate candidate Stephanie Chang, “but we have more specific concerns, especially over transparency in pay rates and greater access to jobs in male-dominated career fields.” Bertges, a 21-year-old a senior at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Michigan, spent the summer working for Chang’s campaign, phone banking, canvassing and talking to young voters.

In many ways, interns are the heart and soul of political campaigns. They’re on the ground every day with direct access to young voters—especially young women, who have had a 28 percent increase in political engagement since 2016. The population of Generation Z voters is expected to surpass millennials by 2024, ad campaigns are working to address the issues most important to them. In order to understand what brings young people to the polls, Ms. spoke to a few of the young women forming a new backbone in Michigan’s political campaigns.

A young woman at the New York City Women’s March in 2018 encourages other attendees to turn out at the polls. (Molly Adams)

“One of the most important issues to people my age is immigration,” Aisha Soofi, an 18-year-old freshman at Michigan State University, told Ms. “We are living in a time when there’s an abundance of normalized racism and xenophobia to people of color.”

Michigan saw a 29 percent increase in hate crimes in 2016. In Dearborn, home to the largest Muslim population in the United States, Soofi—who worked for former gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed for over a year—heard from many young voters who took offense to President Trump’s Muslim Ban.

Ilene Gould, a junior at MSU and intern for gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, also noted that young voters have become more vocal about LGBTQ discrimination since President Trump banned transgender individuals from serving in the military. “People are concerned over how they are being viewed, how they are being treated,” she said to Ms., “especially after President Trump’s attack on transgender rights.”

For young women voters in Michigan and around the country, issues of reproductive freedom also remain paramount. “Currently, Michigan is not a friendly state for reproductive rights,” Rowan Conybeare, a recent graduate from the University of Michigan and former intern for Senator Debbie Stabenow, told Ms. Conybeare predicted that “this is the issue that will motivate young, female voters this election cycle.”

Women like Bertges, Soofi, Gould and Conybeare also have insight from their own experiences into how to overcome the hurdle of getting young people out to vote, a challenge for most political campaigns. “Getting people engaged is about targeting people’s passions,” Gould says. “Whether it’s abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, minimum wage, gun control—people get involved on issues where they know they can make their voice heard.”

Rowan noted that although young people traditionally have the worst voting patterns of any demographic, change is coming. “It is incredibly exciting to see campaigns at all levels engage with young voters,” she told Ms., “and young voters engage with politics.”


The Future is Ms. is committed to amplifying the voices of young women everywhere. Share one of your own stories about your path to empowerment at SayItForward.org.

About

Lindsey Mutz is a senior at Michigan State University interested in writing, comedy, politics and television production.