By Pichaya Poy Winichakul
There have been a lot of articles lately about idle young people not caring and about single women not voting. I’m a 25-year-old unmarried woman and I started a nonprofit and a political action committee to encourage and support young people running for office. I definitely care. I definitely vote.
But I wasn’t always this way. Growing up, I was as apolitical as they come. I refused to watch the news. I tuned out protests. Until senior year of high school, I picked up a newspaper only to reuse as gift-wrap. My family is from Thailand, and while I’ve lived in America nearly all of my life, American politics often felt irrelevant to me—politicians didn’t look like me, they didn’t talk like me, they didn’t seem to live like me. Nor did I feel connected to what was happening in Thailand. I was living in between nationalities, in between two experiences. It was complicated, and, like a good teenager, I chose to tune it all out.
That changed when I went to college. In September 2008, I was at a liberal arts school in Ohio, located in one of the country’s most impoverished counties. At the time, one in four homes was foreclosed.
I walked past those empty homes every day on the way to my economics class where we were learning theory and discussing America’s financial future. As part of a research project that year, I delved into housing and loans, but also talked to homeowners in the community who were given a bad deal—often the now-infamous racially targeted, subprime loans—and were about to lose their homes because they couldn’t get out of a mortgage that was impossible to pay off in the first place. It didn’t seem right that in a country founded on the right to pursue opportunities—the country my family immigrated to in pursuit of opportunities—that some should have them and some should not.
Yet here I was, standing on a mound of knowledge with access to the resources of an elite institution and living in a community where residents were drowning in indecipherable legal documents with nowhere to turn for help.
I again was in between two worlds.
But this time I didn’t ignore being in the middle. I used it. That year, I started a small organization, a coalition of community leaders to connect homeowners to the resources they needed to stay in their homes. We filled the gap.
It’s been a long time since that experience, but I now run a nonprofit and a political action committee with that same mentality. LaunchProgress encourages and supports young people running for state and local office, focusing on uplifting voices from underrepresented backgrounds. We are filling the gaps in our political system with people who usually fall through the cracks—LGBTQ people, women, people of color.
We believe people who fall in between worlds are powerful because our experiences cover a multitude of overlapping aspects of life. At LaunchProgress, we think those perspectives need to be heard. And we encourage those voices to lead.
We especially focus on young people because they fill a unique void. The millennial generation is solution-oriented, innovative, and empowered by unprecedented technological advances. Our country desperately seeks change and we are equipped to lead that change.
I’m lucky to work with amazing young people who are leading that change every day. Our candidates and supporters are black, white, Asian, LGBTQ, women. They are in urban areas, in rural areas, in suburbs. They come from public school educations and from low-income backgrounds. But they all have powerful stories about how they came to public service and how their experiences have led them to run for office. They are full of energy, passion, and ideas to move their communities forward.
When the media began highlighting millennials and unmarried single women as the biggest question marks in voter turnout this year, I felt a certain call to arms. Young women—we are powerful. Our experiences holding multiple roles—as sisters, daughters, listeners, thinkers, mitigators, leaders, multitaskers—are valuable. Our opinions make the difference. We should feel empowered to make that difference by speaking, by voting, by running for office and leading.
Whether you follow politics, work for politics, or don’t care for it—we need you to vote. We need you to run. We need you to lead. We need your perspective and your voice to be heard to move the country forward. You make all the difference.
Co-Director, LaunchProgress Action Fund and LaunchProgress Political Action Committee
Poy Winichakul is the co-founder and co-director of LaunchProgress, a nonprofit and a political action committee working to encourage and support young progressives running for state and local office. Poy previously served as special assistant to the president at the Brennan Center for Justice, where she helped oversee the day-to-day operations of the think tank and public interest law firm, including all tasks related to fundraising, communications, and strategic management. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, she served as executive director at Helping Oberlin Maintain Equity (H.O.M.E.), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the impact of the home foreclosure crisis in northeast Ohio. She has worked on multiple issue and electoral campaigns and has previously worked with Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and with Sen. Russ Feingold’s Progressives United PAC. Poy received her B.A. from Oberlin College.