climate change as one of the prime concerns among young people, which tracks with Faris’s own assessment. “I think climate change is the issue that my generation will have to suffer with more than anything else,” he said.
Too few leaders are listening to young peoples’ call to curb the use of fossil fuels that are packing carbon into the atmosphere, he said. “I think it’s kind of very necessary that our politicians treat the crisis that we’re in as a crisis,” he said, “and it’s something that needs to be not its own discrete conversation, but included in everything else they’re talking about.”
Cherie Animashaun, 18, Skokie, Ill.
Cherie Animashaun noticed something about several of the students at her elementary school who ended up in juvenile detention: they came from unstable homes, had no mentors and lacked encouragement from adults. It inspired her to do something about education. “What I’ve been trying to do right now is bring students to the forefront,” said the Cornell University freshman.
Putting students first and focusing on the needs of young people is also a core part of who Animashaun will vote for next year. “I’m definitely looking for the candidate who will make a firm decision on preserving education for all people,” she said. She’s noticed politicians who speak on things she cares about and reaches young people where they are, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Frost. Tennessee state representative Justin Pearson (D), who risked his seat for young victims of gun violence and showed “the true heart of a politician,” has gained her admiration.
Animashaun, who said her Christian faith is the center of her life, has been engaged in social causes from a young age. She started a nonprofit in 2021 called Her Rising Initiative that she said educates around 200 girls a year in aspects of leadership, the legal system and women’s rights. She also wrote her first book with the help of mentors when she was 12, a curriculum text titled “Growing With God,” and then authored the “Compass” book series, which features mini lessons about setting goals and harnessing the energy to reach them.
She got involved in politics, she said, to help push for the changes in this country — and education is the key. She hopes improving and diversifying the curriculum can prepare children to make more informed decisions about today’s biggest problems as they become adults. “If we’re not properly educated,” she said, “then we won’t be able to tackle those branches and those barriers.”
Joe Ybarra, 33, in Indianapolis, Ind.
Joe Ybarra can’t understand why some essential workers — particularly ones with the U.S. Forest Service — aren’t being compensated properly while risking so much. “When a wildfire is heading towards a town out west, I mean, you want there to be professionals over there being able to stop it,” he said. “A lot of the wildland firefighters, especially seasonal, are pretty much homeless. They’re living in their trucks, their cars, their RVs throughout the season if their duty station doesn’t have sleeping quarters.”
Ybarra, who is a firefighter in an engine house in southwest Indianapolis and has a background in teaching, tried that seasonal work — which he said can go from May until October and sometimes longer — in Nevada and Idaho. He considered making the move permanent, but couldn’t square his financial needs with the wages being offered. And it wasn’t just the pay of seasonal workers that turned him off. “A lot of them don’t have health insurance as they’re going out to fight these fires as well,” he said, adding that the Federal Employees Health Benefit, or FEHB, was problematic.
The result, Ybarra said, has been a shrinking workforce because of burnout and shortages affecting leadership, who end up lacking the experience they once had. There have been some positive developments in addressing the problem. But without more reforms, “hiring and retaining the permanent wildland firefighting workforce we need will continue to be challenging,” the U.S. Fire Service told The Post in an email.
“This is pretty important because, you know, these wildfires out West are getting more intense,” Ybarra said. And while the issue he wants candidates to talk about centers on fair wages and the dignity of work, much of the problem has its ties in climate change too. “The fire seasons are lasting longer,” he said, “I mean, heck, all of us have been indirectly affected by the wildfires up in Canada.”
Ybarra considers himself a centrist and in 2024 he’ll be listening for candidates’ solutions for recruiting new wildland firefighters and make sure they get better pay and benefits to ensure the at-risk communities out West get the protection they need.
SarahBeth Boothe, 21, College Station, Tex.
When SaraBeth Boothe thinks about her opposition to abortion, she thinks of her older sister, who needs lifelong special needs care because of an intellectual disability, a condition that wasn’t discovered until well after she was born. Some women, however, do discover an abnormality through prenatal screening early on and face a difficult decision about continuing with the pregnancy, one that includes health or financial concerns. Boothe believes that segment of women who are deciding to end the pregnancy should reconsider.
She has rejected the argument by some that intellectual disabilities or other special needs don’t belong in the discussion about abortion. “We’re completely devaluing their life,” she said. Because of that, she feels it’s the most salient aspect of the topic and one that conservative politicians should lean into. “I would love to hear candidates bring up the special needs community and get them involved,” she said is a way to earn her vote.
Boothe said nobody in her family has pushed her to choose left or right when casting a ballot, but she considers herself a conservative. She has turned to mainstream news sources like The Post or the New York Times, then sought the perspectives of political commentators Ben Shapiro or Candace Owens. Being “open minded and well-rounded” is important when weighing issues, she said, and has discussed these topics with friends on the left.
A world without her sister is too much to contemplate for Boothe. She loves people she said and especially enjoys working with disabled children, who can often be ignored. “When I become a mother and I get married, I want to adopt more children with special needs,” she said. “I just absolutely adore them.”
Ultimately, Boothe believes life begins at conception and that there’s danger in “changing the definition of something so vital.” She urged candidates to stand up for that perspective next year. “What’s true has consistently been true,” she said.
George Heller, 18, in Los Altos, Calif.
When George Heller talked about the health care system in the United States, he thought of two family members who had to get MRI’s for serious medical conditions and how much stress that brought. While his family was able to absorb the cost, it left him dwelling on the worst-case scenarios others face. “I can’t, like, even imagine being in a position where we have to decide between saving our parents lives and paying the bills,” he said. “Like, I can’t imagine that.”
“If you’re in a job that doesn’t provide you insurance and you need lifesaving surgery, then what are you going to do?” he asked.
This freshman at George Washington University, who considers himself a Democrat, doesn’t mince words on his dissatisfaction with the health care system and the solutions he wants to hear from candidates. “The fact that that exists in the richest country in the world really, really bothers me,” he said. “It’s hard enough to deal with issues like a parent facing a life-threatening illness. It shouldn’t be made harder by affordability.”
“I know, like there are tons of things you can do and there are tons of things like presidential candidates talk about that they can’t do on their own,” he said. Heller partly drew insights on the topic from his experience on Rep. Anna G. Eshoo’s (D-Calif.) student advisory board, where he focused on health care. “Having a divided Congress makes that really hard. But there are certainly things that we can do that we aren’t doing right now. So I want them to be talking about things like price caps. I want them to be talking about patent restrictions.”
“I would love to have a system where everyone in the country has free health care at no restrictions, but that’s just not possible with the way our country works right now,” Heller said.
Brandon Andrews, 37, in Washington, D.C.
Brandon Andrews learned a lot about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and Black Wall Street after he came to Oral Roberts University to study international relations. He noted how, as a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance, Black people in Tulsa tried to resurrect the Greenwood neighborhood in the years after the riot and make Black Wall Street even bigger, before it was eventually disrupted by a highway project. “I feel like I take some of that Black Wall Street, some of that Greenwood legacy with me as an entrepreneur,” he said.
As an independent, Andrews said he believes in the power of the market and isn’t interested in the government picking winners and losers. But he wants candidates to talk more about how they’re going to support small businesses and microbusiness, especially since the disruption of the pandemic as well as the changes that have occurred over the past several decades. “I’ve seen over and over again just a mismatch between businesses or entrepreneurs like myself and the kinds of businesses we’re starting and the kinds of resources that are available from the federal government,” said Andrews, who’s a senior consultant for a company linked to ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
Opportunity has appeared in many places for Andrews, who not only owns a pair of businesses, but has also gotten involved in nonprofit work and the DC Commission on Fashion, Arts, and Events, as detailed on his professional website. On the older end of the people interviewed, he hailed his generation and those younger for stepping up with entrepreneurial spirit. But he often thinks about what effort is put into ensuring their businesses have a path of success open to them.
“How do we put them on a track to ensure that they grow and hire so we have all these positive economic effects that the people like to talk about when they talk about small business?” he said.
Samuel Cao, 18, in Mason, Ohio
Sam Cao fondly remembers his mother dragging him to the final debate between Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio) in 2018 at Miami University of Ohio when he was younger. “I really loved the energy of the crowd,” he said, and as an eighth grader discovered more appreciation for the issues being discussed than he ever had before. “I used to think of politics as a hobby,” he said. “So I would say, sorry, I don’t do politics, but I realized that’s more of a very privileged thing to say.”
After covid caused a teacher shortage at William Mason High School where he attended and forced it to close, he looked to his statehouse representative for help. Paul Zeltwinger (R), “one of the most absentee members of the state house,” was part of a supermajority corrupted by gerrymandering and special interests, Cao said. So he decided to run for the seat as a Democrat.
His candidacy caught the attention of local news and caused a stir. And while he lost the primary with 30 percent of the vote, he said the experience taught him a lot about running for office, made him an expert in Ohio politics and opened his eyes to the need for campaign finance reform.
“When I talk about campaign finance reform to them,” Cao said of his peers, “I also talk about just how getting that resolved or reformed is going to help with just winning on the education issue or the reproductive rights issue.” For him, a solution to that problem is the keystone to so many of the problems his fellow Democrats want to fix. “So climate, education, reproductive rights, criminal justice, all those things, they — none of that really can be reformed or change without the proper campaign guidelines,” he said.
His mother, Hongmei Li, has been an associate professor of strategic communications at Miami University since 2015 according to LinkedIn and before that at Georgia State University in Atlanta, a hub of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s. “She definitely played a large role in just like my activism,” he said, describing how racist views associated with the coronavirus triggered her involvement in the anti-Asian hate crimes awareness movement in Cincinnati, where she spoke at National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Lenny Bronner contributed to this report.