Local activists trying to energize millennial voters

By Kierra Gray

Robert Moses thinks millennials can have a big say in the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. The 23-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago student is an organizer for the non-profit Chicago Votes. Its goal is to register new voters and makes complex political issues easy for young people to understand.

“I feel like they’re [millennials] engaged by doing community work like activism,” said Moses. “I know a lot of millennials that are a part of different organizations that care about voting. They care about the South Side Trauma Center, they care about mental health, CPS equity. Millennials are definitely hitting the organizing, especially in Chicago.”

But getting them to the ballot box has proven challenging. In 2012, about 220 million Americans were eligible to vote but only 150 million are registered to vote, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 58.5 percent were registered to vote.

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Derek Bagley, Chicago Votes Development Director, said the goal of this organization is to make democracy more accessible, fun, and simple so people can understand that their vote matters.

“We have to meet people where they are with the interest that they have and speak the language of youth,” said Bagley. “Our generation thinks vastly different from the generation of our parents. We have the whole of human knowledge at our fingertips because of the use of the Internet. We are a more aware group of people though we’re not engaging in that civic process despite that fact that we have all this knowledge all around us.”

The millennial generation will be close in numbers to the baby boomer generation at the voting box in the 2016 presidential election, according to the National Journal. It will likely surpass them in 2020. Organizations in Chicago, such as Chicago Votes and the League of Women Voters, are searching for ways to engage this influential generation.

Mary Schaafsma, League of Women Voters Executive Director, has a message for millennials.

“The legacy that we as adults are handing you as millennials and young people is a mess,” said Schaafsma. “Democracy is hard. This isn’t like sitting in a bean bag chair and saying let’s watch democracy on our big screen TVs. This is about being engaged, understanding the issues and then going and voting and considering ways in which you all run for office. We need to create more competition.”

Chicago Votes says it will work to get people on college campuses and in the streets registered to vote. Bagley said just being registered doesn’t mean you’re engaged. After voting registration ends, the organization will work on another effort called “Get Out the Vote” (GOTV).

“We go out just as we had with the registration and collect what we call pledge-to-vote cards,” said Bagley. “Pledge-to-vote cards are issue based cards that people mark off things that they care about and reasons that they want to go out and vote.”

Bagley says he will also work on a social media campaign to engage younger voters. He wants to make sure they have the facts about who is running in the upcoming election, how they are running and what the candidates stand for.

Picture at top: Robert Moses at discusses race and gender issues at Chicago Votes, a non-partisan voting rights center