What led to this historic flood of young voters?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

When students organized the March for Our Lives movement in 2018 to advocate for a safer, more peaceful America, in response to the deadly school shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, they said: “This is our year to make sure young people get a say in the future of the country.”

A year later, young people launched a global climate strike. And in 2020, they faced down a pandemic to march for Black lives.

Now, they are indeed having their say—at the ballot box. According to Tufts’ Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, voters ages 18 to 29 are voting in record numbers. The surge in youth and first-time voters makes up a healthy chunk of the 96 million Americans who have cast votes ahead so far, Tucker Toole reports for Nat Geo.

“I think with the recent happenings with, of course, racial injustice and the pandemic, it’s kind of driving people to be more passionate about the things that are happening in our world as well as just passionate about electing leaders that have the same ideas and values that they do,” said Texas Southern University junior Mariah Campbell (pictured above).

Youth engagement has been building during the past several years. In the bi-annual Harvard Youth Poll, published last week, more than 63 percent of those polled said they intended to vote compared with 47 percent during fall 2016.

“Young people have grown up with the fear of school shootings, they’ve witnessed the destructive forces of unchecked climate change, they’ve participated in demonstrations against racial and economic injustice, and they’re hungry for calm, sure-handed leadership,” said Justin Tseng, chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project.

Youth engagement is happening not only as part of high profile events such as mass protests but in the work they’re doing in their local communities. Cate Engles, a 2020 high school graduate, decided to take a gap year before entering college next fall. She’s spent the semester working to get people registered to vote and organizing volunteers at her local party headquarters.

“For this next part of our lives, my classmates and I have responsibilities that feel unlike those of past generations, and opportunities to make critical changes in the world we live in currently,” Engles wrote for Nat Geo. “Whether it’s working on a degree that will help you become the next civil rights lawyer or taking a year to help with environmental clean-up, many in the Class of 2020 are devoted to bettering their communities.”

Perhaps, whatever the result of tomorrow’s election, that commitment from America’s youth will grow.

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Today in a minute

The Aegean’s wild tectonics: Looking for an explanation for the deadly 7.0 quake that hit Turkey and Greece on Friday? It’s the “complicated geologic jigsaw” that has shifted the Earth in the region for centuries, Nat Geo’s Maya Wei-Haas reports. Many earthquake zones have two tectonic plates rubbing against each other along a fault line. But there are many plates and geologic faults in the region. The death toll rose on Monday to 87 and nearly 1,000 people were injured, most in Izmir, Turkey's third largest city.

Europe goes on lockdown: Britain has joined Germany, France, Ireland, and Belgium in establishing a form of national lockdown after startling increases in COVID-19 cases. Greece and Austria also tightened restrictions over the weekend, the New York Times reports. The measures has come as most American states have shown increases, but governors of the hardest hit states, such as the Dakotas, have resisted calls by public health experts to mandate face mask use or shut down certain businesses to reduce the infections and deaths. “We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” says the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Women power: The U.S. amendment to repeal alcohol sales came about mainly because of women, who witnessed the domestic violence of men who squandered the family’s budget on booze. But Prohibition let loose a flood of illegal booze, as well as corruption and organized crime. Kate Thornton examines the role of women in getting Prohibition repealed in December 1933. While men trying to legalize alcohol were “defeatist,” women who had successfully battled for the right to vote knew better, one (male) repeal advocate said at the time. “They believed from the start that they could win again, and they were right.”

The 900-year-old selfie: The carving of a man, partially hidden by carved foliage atop a pillar, has looked down for centuries upon millions of worshippers in the cathedral in Spain’s Santiago de Compostela. Now an art historian believes that carving was actually never meant to be seen because it was kind of an in-joke or a signature, a portrait of a stonemason who worked on the cathedral, the Guardian reports.

R.I.P. Cecilia Chiang: First, as a kid, she fled 1,000 miles to escape Japanese invaders. Years later, the took the last plane out of Shanghai before the Communists took over. Improbably, Cecilia Chiang began a San Francisco restaurant that educated generations of Americans about fine Mandarin cuisine (e.g. no chop suey). Her son, Philip, later took a more casual approach, starting the popular nationwide restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s. Cecilia Chiang died Wednesday at age 100, the New York Times reported.

Instagram photo of the day

Music at the polls: Barbara Ortiz leads a group of dancers and musicians in a performance of traditional Puerto Rican bomba music outside an early polling station in Alafaya, Florida. The Latino vote in the state is seen as a key in Florida’s choice in the 2020 presidential election. Among that vote is those of Puerto Ricans, who are a force in central Florida and whose numbers grew after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

The big takeaway

How did the U.S. start counting votes? We’re hearing how vote counting will be such a headache in some states after America’s presidential election tomorrow. The nation didn’t even all vote at the same time until the 1848 presidential election, and it took the invention of two things—the telegraph and the Associated Press—for the states’ votes to come in from the nation and be distributed to its citizens. Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever writes that vote-counting issues delayed victory declarations in 1968 and bedeviled Florida for weeks in 2000. The 2000 vote also spawned myriad legal challenges and unfounded voter fraud claims, legacies that have burdened presidential elections to this day. (Pictured above, an election worker scanned mail-in ballots on October 20 in North Las Vegas, Nevada).

In a few words

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Last glimpse

Train of the dead: A now-abandoned railway was built for one purpose only—to carry the dead of London’s working class to final—and affordable—resting places out of town. In 1854 the London Necropolis Company opened what was then the world’s largest graveyard, the 500-acre Brookwood Cemetery. The company’s trains carried coffins—and mourners—23 miles southwest of London’s Waterloo Station (pictured above) at a fraction of the price of a horse-drawn carriage, Nat Geo’s History magazine discovers.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse has selected the photos. Kimberly Pecoraro helped produce this. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and happy trails.

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