Election Shows that Organizing Young People — Particularly Latinx Women — Is Key to Texas’ Future

By Tess Ortega
Lead Organizer, Jolt

Photo credit: Hector Sifuentes

This piece is part of the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Blog Series, a platform for social justice movement leaders from around the world to share learning and insights, hear what’s working and what’s not, build solidarity, and spark opportunities for collaboration. Amid daily headlines of division, this blog series is intended to serve as an active and dynamic beacon of hope, possibility, resistance, and resilience.


Last week’s election is a reminder that our democracy — and our state — is strongest when everyone has a voice. When all eligible voters are engaged and informed. Getting there now means focusing on those who’ve been left out in the past: young people, and especially Latinxs.

Nearly four in 10 Texans are Latinx. According to “We Are Texas,” a recent study by Jolt on the values, issues, voting patterns, and barriers to civic participation for young Latinxs, more than 2 million Latinx youth in Texas will turn 18 over the next decade, and 95% will be eligible to vote. That’s nearly 200,000 new Latinx voters each year. And by 2022, 18- to 30-year-olds will make up the largest voting bloc in the state.

But you wouldn’t know it by looking at voter outreach efforts. According to a poll released in mid-October, six in 10 Texas Latinxs had not yet been contacted about voting.

This feeds into a troubling cycle: campaigns don’t engage young voters, especially Latinx youth, and many voters say they don’t feel informed or empowered enough to vote. In Texas, just 32% of eligible Latinxs cast a vote in 2016, compared to 59% of non-Latinx voters. The low turnout leads to a lack of representation, and the lack of representation means that Texas legislators are ignoring the priorities of many of the people.

Texas can do better.

And any strategy to create change must invest in youth organizing, particularly among young people of color, whether it’s election season or not.

Here in Houston, that can look like Jolt’s summer leadership institute teaching young residents of color the basics of community organizing. Or our public art collaboration with the Inside Out Project, displaying portrait murals that show what voters look like in different communities. Or our University of Houston student chapter training student leaders and registering voters.

We’ve found that young Latinx women are leading the way. Latinx women age 18–24 vote at a 24% higher rate than their male counterparts and at a 5% higher rate than non-Latinx women. Of Jolt’s 13 student chapters across the state, all but one are led by Latinx women.

Civic engagement organizations need to be investing in these young women, providing them with the skills, tools, and resources they’ll need to step into positions of leadership.

When we provide professional development opportunities for a young person, not only does the individual grow, entire communities benefit.

I think of Gabriela, a 22-year-old who started volunteering with Jolt after attending one of our events last fall. When she came to us, she was passionate but still shy. Then she attended our leadership institute, learning skills like how to recruit volunteers through both one-on-one conversations and through social media. She became an organizing intern, and put these skills into practice, coordinating events, bringing volunteer deputy voter registrar trainings to her campus, and even doing media interviews. I saw her self-confidence grow, and she ended up being one of Jolt’s top voter registrars. She was elected president of her college’s Jolt student chapter, which she’s been instrumental in expanding. And when she graduates in December, she wants to continue doing civic engagement work.

Texas youth have tremendous civic and leadership potential. It just needs to be developed.

That’s why Jolt and Deeds Not Words, with support from the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Fund, today launched Movement Mujeres, a four-year, $2 million program to invest in Texas Millennial and Gen Z women of color as a new generation of dynamic leaders.

At the heart of this work is a two-year fellowship that will support 25 young women of color leaders, providing intensive leadership, public speaking, governance, and policy training; building an alumnae network that fellows can lean on for long-term support; and helping put these young women in a position to seek leadership positions across Texas, within or outside of government. Applications for the first Movement Mujeres leadership cohort opened today.

The health of our democracy — and our state — hinges on an active and engaged citizenry. As one of the largest and fastest growing populations in Texas, young Latinxs, particularly women, are key to the future of Texas.

Let’s make sure it’s a bright future.

Hailing from Houston, Tess Ortega is the Lead Organizer at Jolt, a statewide, multi-issue organization that builds the political power and influence of Latinxs in our democracy. Learn more about Jolt’s Movement Mujeres program and apply here.