Feb. 20, 2019 2:40 pm

March For Our Lives Philly youth organizers: It’s ‘extremely important for us to participate in politics’

Local teens are hosting voter registration drives at their schools and encouraging their peers to be politically aware. Plus, here's how to vote for the first time.

Group of MFOL Philadelphia members.

(Courtesy of MFOL Philly)

Gun violence brought the group of teenagers together. Now they’re deep into politics and policy.

“Mental health, poverty and failed education systems are just a few of the various causes for someone to pick up a gun,” said Alex Franzino, a student at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, N.J., via email. Along with Anissa Wheeler, Ethan Block and other student leaders, Franzino runs March For Our Lives Philadelphia (MFOL Philly), acting as its director of operations.

As part of the local group spun out of the national movement sparked by the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Franzino recently held a voter registration drive at her school. She saw the event as a way to get younger teenagers thinking about voting an election or two before they are eligible to vote.

“Some states allow minors to pre-register to vote,” she said.

Although gun violence is the issue that motivates the leaders of MFOL Philly, that doesn’t deter them from engaging (and registering) other young voters who might disagree with their political beliefs.

“Our objective is not to persuade or sway the minds of others, but to inform. Everyone’s opinions should be respected,” said Wheeler, MFOL Philly’s community relations director.

Engaging the young — often first-time — voters seems to be working.

The numbers

According to the national March For Our Lives organization, the midterm election turnout for young adults between 18 to 29 rose from 21 percent in 2014 to 31 percent in 2018. Locally, the youth vote is surging.

Still, there is a large gap in turnout between younger and older eligible voters across the country. According to Pew Research, in 2016, 69 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70) went to the polls while only 51 percent of millennials (ages 20 to 35) did so. In terms of eligibility, millennials are the second-largest voter group in the U.S., just behind the Baby Boomers.

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"The possibilities are endless, but being silent should not be one."
Anissa Wheeler, March For Our Lives Philadelphia

The campaign of one hopeful Democratic presidential contender, Pete Buttigieg, has honed in on this disparity in influence and has made “intergenerational justice” a central theme of his campaign. Wheeler and Franzino both see youth engagement in the upcoming election as an opportunity to work with older generations.

“Young adult voters need to step up and help with the big decisions in our country,” Wheeler said. “Young adults and our elders need to be able to work together and share knowledge with each other.”

Similarly, Franzino believes it is “extremely important for us to participate in politics and make sure that the generations before us understand our concerns and actually do something about them.” She said she knows the three main reasons young voters don’t show up at the polls.

“I think it really just comes down to: 1) laziness; 2) a feeling like their vote doesn’t matter; and 3) not being aware of why they should vote,” Franzino said.

How to vote for the first time

For those younger Pennsylvanians and Philadelphians who fall into Franzino’s first category, Ballotpedia, The League of Women Voters and Committee of Seventy all have resources to help you research issues, know your rights and prepare for the big day.

For the professional procrastinators out there, both Billy Penn and Philadelphia magazine publish last-minute guides to help you make your decisions.

And for those potential voters who feel their vote doesn’t matter, recent elections have demonstrated that every vote counts. Trump’s victory hinged on the votes of approximately 80,000 people in three states; the governorship of Wisconsin was decided by 1.1 percent of the vote;, and one district’s Virginia House of Delegates seat was decided by picking a name out of a film canister after a tie vote. You never know the impact one vote will have.

Also, don’t forget to vote in the primaries to help shape your preferred party leading up to the 2020 general election. (If you have problems the day of a primary or general election, you can call the Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE or reach out to them on twitter @866OurVote.)

Finally, if you’re a teen (or an adult of any age) with a friend who doesn’t plan to vote, take a line from Wheeler’s playbook: She intends on reminding nonvoting friends that “the possibilities are endless, but being silent should not be one.”

March For Our Lives Philadelphia his hosting an event called “The Art of Gun Reform” on Feb. 24. Details here.


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