Alex Edgar: A Paradigm Shift for Californian Democracy
Alex Edgar was a 2023 California 100 Futures fellow and student at UC Berkeley. On campus, he served as the External Affairs Vice President of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) and the Civic Engagement Director for the University of California Student Association (UCSA).He is interested in developing policy solutions to major social problems, aiming to create a democracy and education systems that are more responsive to the will and needs of the public.
Learn more about the Youth Futures Summit — the first long-term futures convening of its kind in the country — and explore our collective visions, strategies, solutions and commitments for the Future of California at youth.california 100.org.
Take a moment to recall your most recent experience of voting in a national, state, or local election. Close your eyes and picture the voting process you went through.
- Who accompanied you during the voting process. Were you in line with fellow community members? Did you sit at your kitchen table, surrounded by your children? Or were you alone, with Rachel Maddow’s voice in the background?
- What sources of information helped you understand the ballot. Did you rely on a California voter guide? Local or national news? Or did you gather knowledge through word of mouth?
- Where were you when you cast your vote. Were you at home? In a local church or school? Or perhaps in your car?
- When did you vote. Was it after work or school? During work hours? Or maybe during a meal break?
- Why did you choose to vote. Was it a sense of civic responsibility? Fear of losing your rights? A desire to make a difference?
- How did you vote. Did you send your ballot by mail? Visit a polling location? Or utilize a ballot dropbox?
Now, try to visualize the voting experiences of your friends, coworkers, and community members. It’s challenging, right?
Every Californian possesses a unique set of lived experiences, resulting in distinct voting experiences. Factors such as historic disenfranchisement or being unable to return to vote due to college classes on Election Day contribute to a complex range of influences and barriers impacting Californians’ voting habits. This same complexity applies to other forms of civic engagement, including community volunteering and advocating to legislators.
While California has strong voting rights, it’s important to recognize that our democracy is not flawless. Communities with the most at stake in every election, such as voters of color, young voters, and lower-income voters, continue to cast their ballots at significantly lower rates compared to other segments of the electorate. Furthermore, traditional electoral systems like the electoral college, two-party systems, and two-round runoffs greatly limit California’s impact on local and national levels. In order to combat these issues a paradigm shift is needed for Californian democracy.
I challenge each and every one of you to reassess your biases when it comes to our democracy in California. Instead of dismissing new ideas due to the status quo of voting rights, we must break through the norms and approach each new idea with open minds, focusing on equitable access. Then, we must determine the significance of breaking down these barriers for members of our community. This will require recognizing and dismantling systemic issues that may not be at the forefront of the average Californian’s mind. Our efforts should concentrate on dismantling systems and policies that exist both in law and practice across the state of California. From requiring institutions of higher education to give students Election Day off to vote, to automatically registering every Californian to vote through an opt-out system, the possibilities for change are endless.
By acknowledging the complexity of voting experiences and striving for equitable participation, we can strengthen our democracy and ensure that every Californian’s voice is valued and heard. It is only through these collective efforts that we can create a more inclusive and representative political landscape, where all Californians have an equal opportunity to shape the future of our state and nation.
During my time as a California 100 Future Fellow, I had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with peers from across the state and work towards the impactful CA 100 Youth Future Manifesto. Engaging with the Civic Engagement working group was particularly powerful as I learned extensively from the lived experiences and knowledge of my peers. Together, we drafted our dreams for the future of Californian democracy and civic engagement, with a specific focus on systemic changes and justice for all Californians. Now that the fellowship is over, I can confidently say that it helped me become more creative and open minded when designing new projects and policy and become more confident in the power of my ideas as a young person.
It’s incredibly easy to become consumed by the demands of the present. Our lives are increasingly intertwined with technology, constantly connected and rarely finding the time to pause, reflect, and detach. However, some of the most profound revelations and breakthroughs occur when we allow ourselves moments of stillness and introspection, just as the Future Fellows experienced this past year. By shifting our focus towards the future, we can unleash our imagination and formulate ambitious goals that have the potential to truly revolutionize our society.
Together, we can shape a democracy here in California that we can all be proud of.