RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Joe Biden was not the top choice for many young voters last year. But they became a key part of the constituency that eventually sent him to the White House. Now youth activists seem to have the ear of the Biden team. The question is what actions that may result in. NPR's Juana Summers has been talking to some of these groups. And she joins us now. Hey, Juana.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
MARTIN: So who are we talking about? What kind of organizations is the Biden White House engaging with?
SUMMERS: Rachel, the Biden administration has been having somewhat regular meetings with largely progressive groups who are focused on the concerns of young people. We're talking about groups like NextGen America, Young Invincibles, the Sunrise Movement and March for Our Lives. And they're pretty happy with the access they have. But there is also some concern that these meetings may be all talk. These activists are waiting to see whether the meetings translate into policies that could meaningfully change young people's lives. Greisa Martinez is the executive director of United We Dream, which is pushing the administration on a number of immigration-related issues. And she put it this way.
GREISA MARTINEZ: And what we know and what I've learned as an organizer is that access does not equal power, that just because you have the meetings or, you know, the calls - those are important components of being able to advance your strategy. But they're not power. So we continue to organize.
MARTIN: So they want power to what end? What are some of the results they want to see?
SUMMERS: Yeah. So to be clear, we're talking about the concerns of a lot of different groups with a lot of different priorities. So I want to just give you one big example, and that's student debt relief. There was a lot of frustration when President Biden spoke at that CNN town hall. And he said pretty directly that he did not plan to eliminate up to $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower, which is something that's been a priority of many young people and liberal Democrats. I talked with Sarah Audelo, who is the executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action.
SARAH AUDELO: I think there's just a lot of education, clearly, that needs to be done about who holds student debt, about the impact of that student debt. You know, I was hoping we were in a more positive place. But then the town hall Response was really like, OK, cool. We're, like, 15 years behind.
SUMMERS: And one other place I want to point out where there's a lot of urgency is around the nation's gun laws. Senior officials have held a couple of different meetings with prominent groups focused on the issue. The most recent one was last week. And it included a lot of young people, including some folks from March for Our Lives. And it was including Susan Rice, the head of the Domestic Policy Council. And after it ended, the White House released a statement where they said that this was a sign of Biden's commitment to making communities across the country safer. Even so - couple days after that meeting, March for Our Lives came out with their own list of demands for the administration, including that Biden dedicate at least $1 billion to combating gun violence, as well as appointing a senior staffer as a director of gun violence prevention.
MARTIN: Well, that raises the question not just of who is the White House talking to - right? - but representation within the administration.
SUMMERS: Yeah. That's right. There is a coalition of groups that are mostly led by young people. And they have called on Biden to establish an office of young Americans within the White House, as well as to appoint a director of youth engagement on the Domestic Policy Council. The reason why these groups say that is so important is because when young people are in actually meaningful roles, they can impact policy through their lived experience. One quick example is the fact that earlier this month, the White House announced the folks who will be on their task force on COVID health equity. One of those members is a high school student named Vincent Toranzo, who had been involved in the Biden campaign in the past. And he'll have a seat at the table, focusing on COVID relief and the social equities involved in that.
MARTIN: NPR's Juana Summers, thank you.
SUMMERS: Thanks, Rachel.
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