Notes from a Member of Generation Ratify: The Power of Youth in Social Movements

By: Emilia Couture

Young girl standing infront of Constitution with hands on her hips saying, "Not one more generation."

Almost half of the world’s population is under thirty years old.[1] In the United States, approximately twenty-four percent of the population is under eighteen.[2] The 18-year-old voting age can make it difficult for the political interests of virtually a quarter of the population to be voiced. However, an increase in availability of information and technology has caused some shake-up in the status quo.  With the internet and social media, young people have been able to empower themselves politically in a way that was not possible before. A prime example of this is the youth movement, Generation Ratify, which is working to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The current focus is having Virginia become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. 

I am the outreach director for Generation Ratify — and I am an 18-year-old college student.[3] Everyone else on the leadership team, including the founder & executive director, is in high school. The idea was the brainchild of my inspirational younger sister, Rosie. She saw the excellent work that VARatifyERA does, and wanted to put a more youth-centric spin on it. We are currently executing our Elect Equal Rights campaign. Within this, we are reaching out to voters in usual ways – such as canvassing and phone-banking – but also taking more novel approaches like creating community art and hosting social justice slumber parties to engage our peers in this important issue. In our work, we stand on the shoulders of the powerful feminist Alice Paul, who built the groundwork that allowed the ERA to be passed in Congress in 1972.[4] Over forty-five years later, the Amendment is still one state short of being ratified and becoming a part of the Constitution. 

An important concept I have learned while working within social justice movements is the idea of generational leadership. This can be understood by thinking of a see-saw. In order to maintain the balance at the fulcrum of a see-saw, one must have weight on both sides. This is representative of the idea that leaders must honor the past, present, and future in order to keep a balanced movement for social justice. Youth play an important role in the movement to ratify the ERA, as they do in other social justice movements, because youth have the uncanny ability to maintain this balance between the past, present, and future. Generation Ratify sees the past work for the ratification of the ERA and what is currently being done, as we actively look towards the future. An example of this is the emphasis we place on intersectionality within our activism. 

Generation Ratify knows that it is important to promote equal rights for all, and we realize that some groups are disproportionately affected by gender discrimination due to their other intersectional identities. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, women in the United States lose over $915 billion a year in wage gaps.[5] However, African-American women are paid sixty-two cents to a white male dollar while white females earn seventy-nine cents.[6] Another example is the fact that half of the transgender respondents reported that they had been harassed on the job based on their gender identity.[7] The future of the generational see-saw, so to speak, rests on the need to grapple with these intersections and make sure that marginalized voices are heard even within an already marginalized movement.

Young people are the ones who will inherit the society that is being created now. Although many of us may not have the power to vote, or the financial resources to promote those who we wish to speak on our behalf, we have the motivation required to make an impact. Generation Ratify has empowered youth to act on what they believe. Hundreds of voters have been reached via phone calls, door knocks, and postcards. In addition to collaborating with college and high school organizations, several Generation Ratify chapters have been started in different locations throughout Virginia. With the popularity of social media and the internet, it is no longer acceptable to be ignorant to social justice issues even if they do not impact you directly. It is not enough to merely be educated, but you must also take action to remedy the problems you encounter. We, as youth, realize this, and we realize the necessity of utilizing creative methods to make change when voting is not an available tool. Generation Ratify will continue to work tirelessly for the equality of all genders. We realize that using our voices and political power will help us build the world that we would like to exist in – and not merely exist in the one that is created and dictated by the older voting population.


[1] #YouthStats: Public and Civic Participation, U.N. Office of the Secretary-General’s Enjoy on Youth (2013), https://www.un.org/youthenvoy/political-participation/.

[2] Lindsay M. Howden & Julie A. Meyer, Age and Sex Composition: 2010, U.S. Census Bureau (May 2011), https://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-03.pdf.

[3] Generation Ratify, https://www.generationratify.org/ (last visited Oct. 6, 2019).

[4] The History of the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul Institute, https://www.alicepaul.org/era/history/ (last visited Oct. 6, 2019).

[5] America’s Women and the Wage Gap Fact Sheet, Nat’l Partnership for Women & Families 2 (Sep. 2019), http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/fair-pay/americas-women-and-the-wage-gap.pdf.

[6] Deborah J. Vagins, The Simple Trust about the Gender Pay Gap, AAUW (2018), https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/.

[7] Non-Discrimination Laws, Nat’l Ctr. for Transgender Equality, https://transequality.org/issues/non-discrimination-laws (last visited Oct. 6, 2019).