• NextGen organizer Eden Zimak. Courtesy photo.

NextGen: Celebrating Pride, Engaging Young Voters

By |2020-06-12T12:12:06-04:00June 12th, 2020|Michigan, News|

Commitment to Diversity
NextGen America, the coalition of young people whose goal it is to mobilize other youth to register and vote for progressive candidates, places a high value on the diversity of its volunteers and staff. That’s of great importance to Eden Zimak, a 26-year-old Wayne County NextGen organizer who identifies as a queer woman.
“I don’t think I could work in an organization that didn’t prioritize that,” said Zimak, who uses they/them pronouns. “As someone who is still not protected in some ways under the Elliott-Larsen Act, I would have a really difficult time being engaged with any organization, any job that didn’t … just accept, but really celebrate, LGBTQ people.”
Indeed, NextGen is celebrating the LGBTQ community this June. The lineup of virtual opportunities begins Monday, June 15 and extends through Saturday, June 20.

What to Expect
A family-friendly favorite, Drag Queen Story Time is scheduled for Monday, “which we think will be a really fun way to kick off the event,” Zimak said.
Local Michigan queens will be featured. That’s followed by a community chat-based in west Michigan on Tuesday, June 16, designed to provide locally-available resources for the LGBTQ community in that region of the state.
“Wednesday [June 17] is a Latinx panel discussing the term Latinx and the history of that, and that’s put on by two of our organizers who identify as Latinx,” Zimak said.
Attendees may join NextGen for a happy hour and open mic night called Inside Out Loud on Thursday, June 18, that will include some featured poets who identify within the LGBTQ community.
According to Zimak, “We’ll have a bartender there who will show us how to make a fancy cocktail; we’ll hang out, kind of decompress a little bit, listen to some awesome poetry.”
Friday, June 19, will be a Juneteenth virtual symposium. An educational experience led by Black artists and activists. Participants will learn what Juneteenth is, its history and what’s ahead.
NextGen’s Pride Week ends on Saturday, June 20, with a performance by Flint native and gender-nonconforming musical artist Tunde Olaniran.

Follow the NextGen Michigan Facebook page for more information when that becomes available.
While NextGen’s Pride Week is meant to celebrate the queer community, it also serves to introduce young people to the organization and to activism by way of activities that appeal to its demographic.
“We are 100 percent celebrating Pride,” Zimak emphasized. “We think that’s really important to have that space especially with things like Pride festivals being canceled this year. But we do always have a political education component [to] discuss with people how they can get involved, register voters. This year there’s a big push to obviously get people absentee ballots, and so we’re doing some education around that as well. So that will be included, but our focus is to highlight Pride as the month to celebrate the LGBTQ community.”

Making Adjustments
As Zimak mentioned, many Pride festivals were canceled this year due to the novel coronavirus. Gatherings of large groups of people just haven’t been possible, and that’s affected the way countless organizations function. NextGen is no different.
“It’s been a huge adjustment,” Zimak acknowledged. “When we were out in the field, what we were focusing on was meeting people, especially young people, where they are. So that would look like music festivals, open mics, parties, partner with local artists and DJs … events like that. Protests, rallies — and that, obviously, is all in person, in the field.
“We’ve tried to shift some of those things onto a digital platform. So we’ve done open mic nights, happy hours, things like that. We think that’s really important right now to make sure that there is still space to engage with communities,” Zimak continued. “And then we’ll also have political education as a component of that as well, but our focus definitely is to create the space and make sure people are feeling supported during this really challenging time.”
While times may be difficult due to the pandemic, Zimak said overall, they find plenty to enjoy about their job educating and engaging young voters ages 18 to 35 through get-out-the-vote efforts and by holding elected officials accountable.
“I like that I get to work for people in my age group, and that I get to be knowledgeable about the electoral process system and speak with people who think that the system is not built for them,” Zimak explained. “A lot of young people do feel that way, and I feel that that’s often by design. We’re sort of meant to be kept out of this very complex system, and so it’s cool to engage with folks and say, ‘Hey, if we want to see a future that includes us, if we want to see a future at all, we need to have a hand in shaping a system that actually works for all of us, not just those with the most wealth and resources in this country.’”

Find out more online at nextgenamerica.org.

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist.