If Maine Democrats learned anything from this past election cycle, it’s that now is the time to re-engage with young Mainers — not just for the future of our party, but also for the future our state.

While it is true that younger generations aren’t as likely to vote in midterm elections, there’s no question that Democrats missed opportunities to organize and turn out young and new voters this past election.

We may have one of the oldest populations in the nation, but Maine is buoyed by younger generations looking to stay in the state and make a difference. That is why Maine Democrats must use the next few years to improve their youth outreach efforts and rally the next generation of voters. We must empower a new wave of advocates, activists and leaders.

That’s where Maine Young Democrats come in.

Now is the time to seize the opportunity to reshape our goals, strengthen our messaging and broaden our party’s base. Maine Young Democrats already are laying the foundation for this work and plan to be at the forefront throughout 2015 as we gear up for a presidential election in 2016.

Our organization is open to Mainers younger than 36 who look to get more involved in local, state and even national politics. Our group was recognized recently as an official chapter of the Young Democrats of America, the largest youth-led, national partisan political organization. This partnership gives us access to national resources and tools, while giving us the freedom to build a group that will attract young people from across our state.

We plan to lead a county-by-county effort, creating a grassroots network of passionate progressives and moderates alike to empower the next generation into our democratic process. We’ll do this by working regionally with county-level chapters, college campuses and high schools to collaboratively make our voices heard.

More high schools will host after-school activities through our High School Democrats’ political initiatives. We hope this will spark student interests long before they can vote, so that when the magic age of 18 rolls around, we will have high school students excited about fulfilling their civic duty.

We plan to create a broad network of young activists who will be the voice of our generation in Maine. With Gov. Paul LePage back in office and Republicans in control of the Maine Senate, there’s too much at stake for young people not to get involved.

In the Legislature, there will be attempts at taking away freedoms and rights, including a woman’s right to make her own health care choices and the so-called religious freedom bill, which aims to make it legal to openly discriminate against anyone who is different — particularly our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning brothers and sisters.

In Congress, Republicans still refuse to look at science when it comes to climate change, and many in the Republican Party want to repeal the Affordable Care Act — even though it greatly benefits young Mainers.

There’s too much work to do for politicians to roll back the rights for which our parents and grandparents fought so hard and the progress our state has made. Our party is the one that stands up for the rights of all, but we must get better at communicating the differences between it and the other political parties. This is 2015, after all. It’s time to move forward, not backward, and focus on the real issues that affect our futures.

Our organization hopes to see a youth agenda — one that charts a new public policy course that will affect the lives of young Mainers. That means making college and workforce training more affordable and creating better-paying jobs so that we can stay in Maine. The idea of achieving the American dream is not lost, and we know that Democrats are on the right track to making it a reality once again. We will make sure our leaders on every level hear us loud and clear.

Too often, young people get sidelined in election years and become disengaged during off-years. Too often, it is easy to simply let other people deal with the pressing issues of the day. Too often, our voices get drowned out by special interest groups and the lobbyists with the largest checkbooks.

We must have a seat at the table this year, and we must step up to serve our communities. We must fight for what we want to have a better future for ourselves and our state. Our voices must be and will be heard.

It starts with each of us.

Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco and Kate Elmes of Woolwich are co-chairmen of Maine Young Democrats.

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