Too Young to Vote but Not Too Young to Have an Opinion: Republican High Schoolers Form National Organization

FAUQUIER COUNTY, Va.— With the mid-term elections fast approaching in November, local political groups around the country are rallying their constituents.

Republicans, statistically white and older, are eager to broaden their base. Upticks have been noted in the black, Hispanic, and Asian populations. Youth is no exception.

“We’re seeing young conservatives bringing up the movement,” said Virginia State Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17th) at the Oct. 4 meeting of the Fauquier County Republican Committee (FCRC). Reeves was there as a guest speaker. He echoed the sentiments of many of the nearly 100 attendees, that encouraging young people to get involved is critical.

At an earlier meeting of the Fauquier County Republican Committee in Warrenton, Virginia on Sept. 6, one of the guest speakers stood out among the predominantly older crowd.

Sixteen-year-old Michael Gregory is a junior in high school in nearby Fairfax County. With classes back in session, he spoke to the group about conversations he has had with fellow classmates.

“Many of them think communism is the way to go,” said Gregory, “do they not read history?”

Gregory has also confronted teachers when they express a political viewpoint, like identity politics, that he doesn’t agree with.

“I was pleased that this [one] teacher was open to a discussion,” said Gregory who has been on the road speaking at local GOP meetings from Washington, D.C. to Richmond to Roanoke, Virginia.

“I look around, and I see what’s not right,” said Gregory, “and I decided to speak out…that’s the reason I’m involved.”

“My mother is from Russia, and my father has always been a big Republican,” continued Gregory. “I don’t want to give up on my generation…although sometimes I wonder if it’s too late…I want things to turn around.”

“I started a group in my high school and began to look around for other groups that might be doing similar things,” said Gregory. It didn’t take him long to discover the High School Republicans Federation of Virginia. He is now their secretary.

Gregory had flyers at the meeting describing their mission.

“The High School Republicans of Virginia are a community of teenagers who seek to preserve conservative values and our Constitution. In our community, we meet new friends and make our first step into politics. We also provide volunteer opportunities for our members.”

Gregory was pleased to announce that in addition to being the group’s secretary, he had recently been named Virginia’s 10th District Chairman.

Virginia’s 10th District, recently redistricted, includes the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Loudoun, parts of Fairfax and Prince William Counties as well as the independent cities of Manassas, Manassas Park, and Winchester.

Catching the attention of nationally syndicated talk show host, Sebastian Gorka, Gregory appeared on his program, America First, in early September.

“I was nervous during the interview,” admitted Gregory. “I’ve just recently made the decision to be more vocal…but I can do this…to bring awareness.”

Gregory’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

New Generation of Counter-Cultural Warriors

A retired U.S. Army major general, Greg Schumacher chairs the Fauquier County Republican Committee. He met Gregory and has had him speak several times.

“He [Gregory] is an articulate young man who knows what he believes, and why, but what impressed me most was his courage—his willingness to unashamedly proclaim who he is, what he stands for and to engage others to persuade them,” said Schumacher adding, “he was so well received, both as an individual and a representative of the group instilling hope for the future.”

Virginia has not been a red state for 12 years. With the election of Governor Glenn Youngkin as its 74th governor in January 2022, Virginia now has a Republican governor turning the blue tide.

Schumacher sees youth participation in the system as a positive force for the future.

“We older ones were reminded of what we’re fighting for, and the necessity to keep on fighting, until we can pass the baton to this younger generation. Their vision and courage give us confidence that this idea of America will yet remain the source of hope and opportunity for freedom and liberty to all for at least another generation,” said Schumacher noting that Gregory’s involvement at the state level mirrors what is happening on a national scale.

Young and Concerned

While Gregory keeps tabs on what is happening in Virginia, another high schooler is in charge of nationwide efforts.

Seventeen-year-old William Atkins is a senior in high school in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Like Gregory, he started on the local level.

My early love for history and maps led me to become interested in American and international politics. I had always been politically aware, but my involvement started in October of 2020,” said Atkins.

“I decided to go door-knocking with my friend, as we were both promised free hats. I had nothing going on that day, so what I had originally decided on a whim, evolved into an interest in organizing students to make an impact on local politics.

“I started by forming a group for my local county, then for my school, and soon after I got into contact with Republican clubs across the state. I founded the New Jersey High School Republicans, and was officially elected as state chairman on Jan. 23, 2021,” said Atkins who discovered that the vast majority of states lacked organized efforts like what he had done.

When Atkins did discover an active state federation, he found them wanting.

“They lacked some incredibly important things like websites, social media pages, bylaws, and good branding. I found that the lack of coordination and support between state leaders was preventing these organized efforts from reaching their full potential,” said Atkins.

By the end of 2021, Atkins began to lay the groundwork for a national support network. In addition to work in his AP Government and Politics class, Atkins began formulating organizational documents, creating logos and resource guides, designing the website, and reaching out to his counterparts across the nation for help.

“It took a multi-faceted approach to achieve a unified organization, but in the end, we brought together nearly 80 percent of all state federations,” said Atkins, who because of his role in founding the organization, was elected national chairman by a virtual convention of state federation delegates.

Their website, www.hsreps.org launched in April of 2022.

Currently, they have local chapters in 30 states. Of them, 15 are organized into state chapters.

“Our largest state chapters are Nebraska, North Carolina, and New Jersey and we currently have 10,000 members,” said Atkins.

Taking a Stand

For Gregory and Atkins, taking a stand to give voice to Republican beliefs is not without risk.

“Oh, I get pushback,” said Gregory, “particularly from other classmates…but I’m used to it…this is what will happen when you stand for Republican education… but what’s the right thing? What do we need now?

“My friends, family, and some teachers have been very supportive of my mission,” said Atkins, “although I’ve lost some Instagram followers and have been the subject of some critical words behind my back, I have been moving forward without delay.”

Atkins has been an influencer in his immediate family.

“My parents weren’t always politically active, but through my involvement, I inspired my mom to run for the county Republican committee,” said Atkins.

Moving Forward

The High School Republican National Federation describes themselves as the next generation of conservatives. Their purpose is to change the narrative about how high schoolers view the Republican Party and conservatism.

Open to all teens, the group is entirely student-run. They are open to donations. 

“The next steps are to continue growing the High School Republicans by starting more state chapters across the country,” said Atkins adding,

“Work is underway to complete new resource guides to help chapter leaders with everything from legislative advocacy to digital engagement. Our main focus is on enabling new leaders to take charge across the nation.”

Young, organized, and energetic, the High School Republican National Federation is a movement older Republicans are encouraged to see.

“A new generation of counter-cultural warriors is emerging. In the historic spirit of rebellious youth, a growing number of independent, free thinkers are standing up to be counted,” said Schumacher, “despite vilification from peers and the dominant culture,” he added.

“Standing up for their beliefs and principles, groups of high school Republicans are springing up across Virginia and the country.”

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Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four, and she resides in Warrenton, Va. She can be reached at anitajustwrite@gmail.com

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