For most college students, fall arrives amidst the flurry of moving, new classes, new people, and the shelling out of cash for textbooks and highly caffeinated beverages. But this year, a key item for everyone’s back-to-school checklist should be registering to vote. It’s election season, but more importantly it’s time for the entire country to get to know this powerhouse of a generation. It’s time for the popular media narrative of millennials as politically disengaged, uninformed or apathetic will wither in the sunlight.

The true story

The prevailing narrative has ignored college students’ passion for issues that impact their lives and the decisive role that young voters have played in past elections — including the last two presidential cycles. It’s a narrative that discounts the fact that millennials are the largest, most diverse voting bloc in history and that we have the opportunity to decide both who wins the White House and who will run the cities, police forces and educational systems that shape our neighborhoods.

In fact, with each passing election cycle, a growing proportion of the eligible voting population is made up of young people, including college students. If we register to vote and make our voices heard, we can remove those who stand in the way of our vision for a just and inclusive future and replace them with champions who will fight for it.

The power of students

Already this year, we’ve seen college students across the country come together — across race and gender, economic background and sexual orientation — to elevate key issues in the national political debate and support candidates willing to take bold action. Among these concerns of course are college affordability and student debt. Just as a college degree is becoming a prerequisite for quality jobs in almost every field, we’re paying and borrowing more, while earning less.

But while the next president may set the national tone on many important issues, it’s critical that we focus on more than who is at the top of the ticket — the race over which cable news and older generations are obsessing. In order to create the change we demand on the blocks we grew up on and on our campuses, we must make our voices heard in state and local races and on key ballot initiatives to address issues like marijuana legalization and gun violence prevention.

The good news is that college students and young people are standing up and demanding a modern election system, and states across the country are beginning to take action. States like Iowa and Wisconsin have passed new laws allowing for online voter registration. Other states have expanded vote by mail and early voting, providing accessible and convenient ways to cast your ballot.

Protecting our future

But just as some states have made voting easier, others seem to be dead set on making voting tougher, especially for college students and people of color. As a generation, we cannot let that go unchallenged. Some ask if any of this really matters — if one vote is worth fighting to protect. But if our votes didn’t matter, why would the powerful and privileged work so hard to take them away?

As we advocate for innovative new voting laws that make engagement easier and more accessible, we must also redouble our efforts and fight to protect our fundamental right to vote — and to speak truth to power when we do.

The millennial generation has the chance to be the most powerful political force in the country. Will we take it? Or will we let the media and special interests continue to rely on our silence?

Get registered, turn out and change the narrative.