Alyssa Langlois, President of the University of Mississippi College Democrats, believes the fate of the country rests on the shoulders of young people.
“Personally, I don’t really like the idea of an 80-year-old man making some law that will last forever, and he can die and I have to live with it,” said Langlois, 20, a double major in International Studies and French.
Career politicians who have worked in Washington for decades have no perspective as to what life is like under the policies they have crafted, she said. In her eyes, the interests of Washington’s wealthy and powerful often do not line up with the average American, who cashes a much smaller paycheck.
Langlois cites Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an example of the new generation of leaders carrying the country into the future. This new generation consists of young people from working class backgrounds who have lived under the policies of older generations.
“The average age of congressmen and congresswomen is very old, and young people need to be prepared to step in, take over, and make change,” she said, dressed in lively floral overalls.
As young people across the United States make their voices heard and start engaging with the political system, young activists like Langlois say they are setting the tone for how the current generation will one day lead the nation and the world, and what issues they will focus on.
Langlois is politically conscious, and her work on campus as a leader and student activist, as well as her thoughts on the importance of voting, reflects pathways to heal the divisive issues that plague our country.
As a girl, Langlois would sit with her father on the living room sofa, watching the Republican Party Presidential Primary debates on TV. “I would think, these are my options to choose from, the Republicans- I knew next to nothing about the Democratic Party,” she recalled.
Little did she know at the time that moving further to the left than her family would become a recurring theme in her political journey. Langlois had lofty political ambitions even as a child, finding her staunchest political supporters in her big New Orleanian family.
“I used to dream of being the president as a kid, and my parents told the rest of my family, so whenever I got calls, they’d say things like, ‘I’m so excited to vote for you!’ I don’t have the heart to tell them that if I did run for president, after hearing me talk for one minute on the debate stage, they’d be appalled,” Langlois said.
While attending the all-girls Catholic high school, Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, Langlois marked the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case, in which same-sex marriage gained nationwide legal recognition, as a defining moment in the construction of her political consciousness.
“It was weird to me, because the students were all very accepting, and everyone my age thought it was awesome. Even though I don’t really identify with Catholicism anymore, it was nice to see so many people who did, that could separate what we learned at the school from their own personal opinions,” she said, referring to same-sex marriage.
Langlois began watching the 2016 presidential debates without her family, forming her own opinions in the chaotic sea of media frenzy that accompanies every U.S. presidential election. She emerged a Democrat, an active one.
As current president of the University of Mississippi College Democrats and former president of the Mississippi Federation of College Democrats, Langlois has served as an eager student activist and staunch advocate for electoral politics at Ole Miss. Her mission — to get as many people to vote as possible.
“Politics affects everyone, you just have to find the issues that matter to you, what will affect you or the people you care about,” Langlois said.
If you want to make a change in your community, you need to organize collectively and vote, she said. During the 2020 presidential election, when University of Mississippi College Democrats started their voter registration drives, Langlois took to the challenge with palpable enthusiasm and passion for democracy.
Every time she registered someone to vote, she felt excited to help make another voice heard. “Part of what I like is that on the form, you don’t check what party you belong to or plan on voting for — even if I’m registering people that won’t vote for my party, I know that I’m helping to give them a civic voice, and that matters a lot,” she said.
If more people researched and engaged with electoral process, she said, society would improve. “The first election I voted in was a really small local election with 11% voter turnout, and I was appalled. I thought, why would nobody vote in this? And then, my mom said that she didn’t even know what the amendments and referendums on the ballot meant. People like to vote for people, you know, not obscure tax amendments,” she said.
Langlois and the University of Mississippi College Democrats have worked tirelessly to increase election participation through voter registration drives and pooling funds with Ole Miss College Republicans to bus people to polling stations.
Still, she recognizes that much of the reason why voter turnout is so low in many communities boils down to dissatisfaction with the current political system.
“The two-party system is not ideal, and it’s extremely limiting. It puts people off from participating in politics, because they don’t feel either party represents them and so they don’t show up at all — it’s one of the major reasons I think we have low voter turnout,” she said.
Langlois also takes issue with many of the structures and functions of the Democratic Party. “One thing I really don’t like is the superdelegate system. It’s elitist in my opinion, and it takes away the voice from the people,” she said.
“I support a lot of things that the Democratic Party supports, but I think it’s kind of hard to be a Democrat, because there are so many different opinions that fall under the party, super moderate people and very radical people under the same roof. I’ll give it to the Republicans, they have party unity, which means that success can be easier to achieve for them than Democrats,” she said.
“While many of the people I agree with are Democrats, many don’t want to call themselves Democrats, and instead refer to themselves as leftists or socialists. But I’m a Democrat because I know the change I want to see won’t happen overnight, so I have to play into the system to improve the system,” she said.
Langlois lives her politics and understands the role of youth in the political system. She points to Sen. John Ossof’s (D-GA) hard-fought victory against Republican opponent David Perdue, with a margin of 54,944 votes. Newly registered, young, and a many black voters made a huge difference in securing that Democratic victory and flipping the Senate blue.
Young people should also elect leaders who care about climate change, she said.
Langlois recycles and avoids single-use plastics. But she also believes that there’s only so much an individual can do, because large companies contribute 71% of global emissions. “Policy is the solution, because policy can make them cooperate. When we left the Paris Climate Accords, that was one of the ways to hold those big corporations accountable, and we stepped out of it.”
Beyond climate issues, Langlois thinks young people must challenge existing institutions to create a more equal society for all people. “I think there are a lot of things that people say the United States is. We’re the melting pot, we’re the land of the free, home of the American Dream– but this isn’t true for everyone,” she said.
“The American Dream just doesn’t exist right now for most people. They aren’t living the dream they were promised. And with our current immigration policies, we won’t even let people into this country to try and find a better life in the first place,” she said.
In the United States, racial disparities in incarceration rates are extremely high, with Black Americans incarcerated at a rate five times that of White Americans.
“How can we be the land of the free when we have so many people wrongfully incarcerated, people who can’t walk on the street without fear of police violence?” she asked.
“I think those are things that we should strive for instead of the typical ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — if we really dedicated ourselves to becoming the melting pot, the Land of the Free, the home of the American Dream, like we claim to be, the country would be better off,” she said.
Hal Fox is a sophomore majoring in Chinese and International Studies at the University of Mississippi and is from Robert, Louisiana. An opinion writer for the Daily Mississippian, Fox enjoys playing Bossa Nova guitar and arguing with anyone he talks to.