The Deciders: Two young voters pushing for change in this election

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At 26, Lauren Ethredge is already well known in the Republican party politics of East Texas, often considered the westernmost part of the Deep South. She’s from Tyler, the largest and most sprawling city in the region, and is the president of her county’s Young Republican club. 

When I met her in October, she was wearing a Reagan-Bush ’84 T-shirt, a gift from her sister and from a presidential era a decade before she was even born. She was going door to door to turn out the Republican vote, not only for President Trump but local races as well.

Ethredge is firm on her beliefs: She’s a person of faith and in favor of restricting abortion rights. At a local shooting range, she explained the importance of the Second Amendment for ensuring she and other women have access to guns to protect themselves. Mr. Trump’s tax cuts, she said, are a large reason she was able to buy a home at such a young age. 

But she stresses that voters need to make up their own minds. 

“Rather than being somebody who tells people how to vote, I really do encourage them to do their own research,” Ethredge said. “So they can decide based on the facts, the voting records, how they choose to vote and if they align with their personal beliefs.”

At a local event — “Drive for 45 Road Rally” — Ethredge pointed to enthusiasm for Mr. Trump that is not always evident in the polls. The parking lot bustling with country music, motorcycles, car horns and Trump flags.

“They talk about the silent majority and that he doesn’t have a chance and he is not going to win,” Ethredge said. “Then I come to these events…it’s very energizing,” she said, as she unveiled her own “Trump, Keep America Great” flag.

The energy is very different 1,500 miles away in New York City. 

Ramon Contreras is 21 and Afro Latino and was raised in Harlem. He is a college student, a voting activist and the founder of the organization Youth Over Guns, which raises awareness of gun violence impacting Black and Brown communities. 

Yet, he wasn’t always on the path to political engagement, or even finishing high school. He says he was kicked out multiple times for hanging with the wrong crowd and nearly dropped out his sophomore year.

“I went to some of the worst public schools in Harlem where literally the libraries weren’t even filled with books,” Contreras told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan.

Yet, it was the power of a writing teacher that shifted his trajectory.

“He saw something in me that I didn’t see at the time,” Contreras said. “We would also talk about politics and things happening in the community. And I realized that I liked having these conversations, that I was curious and that I had all these questions…And with his help, I actually began to organize in my school.”

The state of race relations in this country is a main reason Contreras plans to cast his first-ever presidential vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.

Contreras marched in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and said voting is the next step. “We’ve protested. We’ve marched. We’ve put ourselves in danger,” Contreras said. “Now let’s make sure that we vote and create that government that can really bring to life the country that we wanna grow up in and the country that we want our future kids to grow up in.”

On a tour of Harlem, Contreras showed Duncan the public housing he was raised in and finally, the local community center where he’ll cast his vote. 

Ethredge and Contreras live in different worlds; their beliefs profoundly shaped by these environments. It’s a reality of separation in the United States today. But both convey a sense of hope: a young generation leading others to create the change they want to see.


We spoke to Ethredge and Contreras as part of “The Deciders,” a CBS News special which explores America’s changing electorate ahead of Election Day. Watch “The Deciders” Friday at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.

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