Youth interest is a key that seems to elude all things remotely political; my generation, known for its apathetic and careless behavior, has thus far been content to allow our futures to be decided by big-government elitists who seek to use their power selfishly. Most of my peers view politics as something that won’t affect them for “at least another 10 years,” so they see no real reason to step in and get involved today. Efforts to change this perspective must be performed urgently and significantly if we truly want to preserve this country– no cause can survive more than a generation or two if it fails to purposely train up new leaders who can carry the torch into the future. This weekend, True the Vote proved, by giving high-schoolers the opportunity to address the summit’s attendees, that they are dedicated to making this engagement a reality.
I had the privilege of joining Tanner Brumbarger and Cesar Ruiz as the youngest speakers at this year’s True the Vote national summit.
Ruiz shared his thoughts on engaging Latino youth who, despite what many believe, do want to be fully immersed in America’s election system because this is our America. “This is the country we love,” Ruiz said. He continued: “We have a chance to vote our values– make our voice heard– yet we remain stagnant.” He stressed the importance of reaching out to minority youth and sharing the message of election integrity with them. All political issues stem from election integrity– party affiliation, conventions, key issues and the like. Ruiz stressed the importance of engaging Latino youth in the election integrity process. Many Latino countries require photo ID and have strict laws to protect the integrity of their election systems; since they may already be familiar with such practices, use that familiarity to convey the importance of election integrity in the United States. As Ruiz said, this is the country they love, so let’s keep that in mind when reaching out to them.
This is the type of message that needs to be spread far and wide– how to reach Latino young people, coming directly from a Latino young person. True the Vote gave Ruiz the platform necessary to share this message with a large audience who can then help him push it out to other sources.
Following Ruiz’s speech, Tanner Brumbarger and I had the opportunity to share a series of points we developed, called “10 Keys to Youth Involvement.” In a discussion called FutureChoice, we had the chance to share our ideas with some of the most active and vocal folks in the country in the area of election integrity; it was crucial for these activists to hear about youth outreach and was equally crucial for Brumbarger and I to share that message. Below is a brief summary of what we discussed:
• Go back and examine history
- Historically, youth respond better to a positive message (Reagan won 59% of the youth vote in 1984 and Obama won 67% of the youth vote in 2012, both through positive messages).
• Get involved on college campuses
- Take the message of election integrity straight to the youth– many young people rely solely on emotion, so take your message directly to them and don’t allow it to be misinterpreted. A lack of outreach and understanding plays a huge part in the apathy taking over American youth.
• Make voter registration a priority
- Only half of eligible young voters in the U.S. are actually registered to vote; couple the point before this and go to college campuses to register young people to vote.
• Make young voices a necessity, not a nuisance
- Any victory today is only temporary unless there are young people there to carry it on past the current generation; have conversations with young people ad take their thoughts into consideration.
• Make younger messengers the “new norm”
- Young people respond better to their peers than they do to people whom they view as “out of touch.” Utilize young people who value election integrity and send them out to talk with their peers about why they should care and be involved in the fight against election fraud.
• Use social media to advance your influence
- The average young person spends 30 hours per week using technology, much of which is social media-related. Reach youth on “their level” by first reaching them through the social networks that they love.
• Utilize technology in every area possible
- Use text-message alerts to remind young people of important dates and events. Blog about election integrity issues and share the links to your stories with young people in your life, giving them a chance to read about its importance.
• Keep the marketing balanced
- A positive message goes farther than 10 stump speeches when it comes to engaging young people. Instead of making civic engagement sound like a chore, make it sound like the vital and fun opportunity that it is.
• Convey the importance of civic engagement at all levels
- If voter fraud exists, the possibility exists that your vote will be canceled out; if your vote is canceled out, you’re no longer choosing your leaders; if you’re no longer choosing your leaders, you can’t hold them accountable; and if you can’t hold them accountable, you’ve lost your right as an American citizen.
• Activate your “army” of youth
- Put young people on the frontlines of the battle for freedom. Put us in positions higher than just the errand boy; young people are capable of so much more and are so eager and willing to play a large role in election integrity.
This is a message that needs to be heard by activists everywhere. However, without a platform from which to share it, this was next to impossible; thanks to True the Vote, we were given the chance to share this message with a room full of dedicated activists who valued our opinions and listened to our thoughts.
At this year’s summit, True the Vote opened a door that so many organizations have kept locked– instead of letting older folks talk about what young people care about and how to engage them, True the Vote gave young people the mic.
Many were disappointed in CPAC’s program this year because of its lack of young leaders sharing ideas about how to reach our peers. True the Vote Summit’s program left nothing to be desired; young voices were valued and given a position that, as of yet, we have rarely been given. Cesar Ruiz, Tanner Brumbarger and I are in this fight for the long haul– it will take us and thousands of our peers if election integrity is going to survive for any length of time. True the Vote gave us the privilege of representing our politically active peers and of sharing ways to engage our apathetic peers.
MSNBC doesn’t think Cesar, Tanner and I exist; many political organizations have seemed to go along with that idea and forget us altogether. This weekend, True the Vote took the first step in changing that. They’re putting us on the frontlines of this battle for our futures. They’re placing confidence in us that we can do so much more than tech support– they’re allowing us to make our voices heard in decisions and situations that directly affect our futures. They are leading by example; other organizations will see True the Vote‘s actions and will begin to incorporate youth into their cause.
A huge thank-you goes out to True the Vote for being one of the first to begin inviting youth to your cause. Because of your actions, other organizations will see and follow your example, resulting in a new wave young people who are eager to be involved. Our future is on the line, and you are allowing us to join you in the fight. Because of that, we will be your biggest cheerleaders and will be right beside you as you fight passionately for our futures. Together, we’re unstoppable.