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The Difference Makers
November 4 was a great night for young voters. After years of being belittled by skeptics who refused to believe in the active passion and interest in the Millennial Generation, that same demographic was responsible for some of the greatest successes of election night.
In key battleground states that put President Elect Barack Obama over the top, young voter turnout increased significantly since 2004's presidential election. Both Indiana and North Carolina saw huge increases in turnout among young voters and the young voters in those states chose Barack Obama over John McCain while every other demographic did not.
But now that the election has come to a close, where do we young voters from here?
Several months ago in an interview 35 year-old Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio described the election as being a pep-rally before the big game. Crafting legislation is where the real work begins, he said, and young voters must be a part of the process.
Young voters are on board, says first time voter Kelly Jacobsen. She hopes her generation will recognize their power and use it in other elections, but when it comes to legislation she hopes officials will value the opinions of youth. "Young people can definitely be a vital part of the legislative process. There are a ton of issues that directly effect us like the cost of a college education and the climate crisis."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees. In an interview at Netroots Nation Speaker Pelosi said policymakers need the youth influence. "There is no standing still in public policy, you're either moving forward or you're falling back. And the fresh thinking that young people bring, their ability to work together across national lines and thinking in a global way and respectful way of all views ... is an invigoration that our public policy needs."
In the first 100 days of the 110th Congress the Education and Labor Committee reached out to young voters when developing the tuition overhaul bill. Chairman Rep. George Miller said in an interview at his Washington office that young voters were instrumental in helping the committee understand the needs of today's students. They also stayed in the Capitol to ensure the bill was passed even after weeks of work. Young people can also reach out to members of Congress to ensure they understand the issues that matter through letter writing campaigns with fellow students or testifying in hearings.
Future Majority's Michael Connery is encouraged to see progress with outreach. After years in the youth movement Connery and cohorts have fought the conventional wisdom that said young voters didn't show up and therefore don't matter. Via email, Connery said "For three elections running, young voters have increased their turnout and played a decisive role in electoral gains by Democrats. Over the coming months and years, youth advocates need to make sure that this contribution is recognized — with a seat at the policy table and greater attention from down-ballot campaigns and the state parties."
Rep. Miller agrees youth should "come back for the second act. . . You have to come back after the election and say: 'This is the deal and this is what this election meant...'"
"This is more than a voting bloc. It's a movement," Eric Greenberg author of Generation We said. "We are witnessing a changing of the guard, a new political epoch, a youth movement, and their call to restore the American dream. One only has to look at how the youth voted overwhelmingly for Obama this election to understand that a generational shift is occurring. This is the start of something much larger."
Greenberg is launching a project to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures of youth, which he hopes to hand, to President Obama. "We need to invent our way out of the energy mess, and soon. Project FREE must be a national program driven by the president, created with cabinet-level authority, endowed with $30 to $40 billion in funding per year" says Greenberg on the pledge site.
Similarly the Generational Alliance launched a Youth Agenda petition, which emphasizes issues like affordable health care for young people, green jobs, voting accessability and sustainable housing.
Other groups are eager to capitalize on youth enthusiasm for progressive policies. Matthew Segal with the http://www.savevoting.org/SpeakOut.html Student Association for Voter Empowerment says they "will unequivocally pass the Student VOTER Act introduced last year.
Similarly, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (also called The DREAM Act) was introduced in 2005 and has been pushed by Latino Advocacy groups across the country. The Act would "facilitate access to college for immigrant students in the U.S. by restoring states' rights to offer in-state tuition to immigrant students residing in their state" according to advocacy group La Raza.
Each White House has an office of Public Liaison that works with constituent groups like African Americans, Latinos, seniors, and other groups. In the former Clinton Administration there was a specific outreach staffer assigned to work with young constituents and youth groups. There is no word yet on whether the new Obama Administration will also have such a staffer.
With 4 million new young voters coming onto the voting rolls every year and turnout this year just two percentage points short of historical numbers both the White House and Congress will have an enthusiastic group already engaged in politics. To begin to further influence government and legalization, young voters can and should use their generation's organizing and new media skills to affect policies politicians campaigned on this year.
"The youth movement of America made its voice heard loud and strong in this presidential cycle," says Jason Pollock, The Youngest Candidate founder. "Political strategists will never again overlook this powerful demographic. I'm so proud to be working in an area of our electorate that has such a bright future."
Generation We Video:
Sarah Burris is a reporter for Rock The Vote's Rock The Trail project. She covers young local, state and federal political candidates and their legislative agendas, rural issues, Green Jobs and the environment.
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