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Youth Civic Activism is Rocking the Vote in 2023

March 21, 2023 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongPurpose

Young people worldwide have always been in the fore front of civic activism from the 1903 March of the Mill Children when labor organizer Mother Jones and 300 Philadelphia striking child laborers marched from Philadelphia to New York to protest working conditions; to the 1976 Soweto Uprising when Black South African students protested the Bantu Education Act and the system of apartheid; to the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations when Chinese students pushed for political and economic reform.

After Reconstruction, Black people all over the nation were being denied the right to vote and many in the south were threatened and attacked for trying to register.  In April 1960, the leaders of the Nashville Student Movement — Diane Nash, John Lewis, Marion Barry, Bernard Lafayette, James Bevel — and over 100 other Black student leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, met at a youth-centered conference at Shaw University convened by Southern Christian Leadership Conference  Executive Director Ella Baker, and formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Voter education and registration was in the forefront at subsequent meetings and in 1961, SNCC’s first voter registration project was launched in the small city of McComb, Mississippi. This was a dangerous undertaking but the students were not deterred and put their lives on the line for the cause. SNCC’s voter registration campaign exposed the violence and discrimination occurring in the Jim Crow south and was instrumental in gaining support for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Student-led voter registration drives continued in the 1970s when Howard University’s Political Science Society, took 90 students to Mississippi in October 1971 to help register people in preparation for the gubernatorial campaign of civil rights activist Charles Evers, brother of NAACP Mississippi field coordinator Medgar Evers who was assassinated for his voting rights activities.

In the 1970s, students nationwide also organized and rallied to push for the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. The thought was, if you can be drafted to fight and die in Vietnam at 18, you should be able to vote.

From our Partners

In this era of renewed voter suppression youth civic engagement in elections is most important. Local organizations like PA Youth Vote are in the forefront of engaging youth to become involved in the election process. PA Youth Vote is a nonpartisan collaboration of youth, educators and organizations that work to elevate youth voices, improve public school civics education and build youth political power. Much of the focus is on youth in low-income, oppressed communities of color, as well as immigrant and gender nonconforming youth.

PA Youth Vote is busy getting youth engaged in the upcoming 2023 Primary Election. “We engage and educate students on a nonpartisan basis and help them connect the dots between the issues impacting them on a day to day basis and the elected officials who should be addressing their concerns,” explained Angelique Hinton, its executive director.  “The next mayor and council will play a huge role in whether or not policies are put in place to address issues the youth care about such as gun violence, access to recreational activities, quality schools in every neighborhood, and the inclusion of the youth voice in all aspects of policy decision making.”

Hinton said the organization is working to engage youth, ensure they are registered, ready to be informed voters in every election and make sure their voices and issues are heard by the candidates. “We’re collaborating with many partners across the city to host candidate listening sessions which will be student-led so that candidates can hear directly from the youth. We will also be producing podcasts and social media content that amplifies the student voices and their concerns, and hosting events where students will share their stories and concerns and discuss ways in which elected officials need to be more responsive to the needs of the youth.”

PA Youth Vote has an excellent Youth Voter Guide that provides information on how and where to register, and links to apply for mail-in ballots, information on polling places and candidate information.  The organization also has a Student Voter Organizer and Youth Vote Ambassador Program that provides youth with stipends for working on elections. Youth can also apply to be employed as Election Day poll workers.

#VoteThatJawn, courtesy image

#VoteThatJawn is another local organization where youth are engaging their peers to participate in the election process. Their website is a fount of information that also provides a voter guide, resources for youth that want to run their own registration drives including videos in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and resources for educators. The organization goes even further by providing an interactive Pennsylvania voting map with partisan breakdown. It also includes a breakdown of redistricting and gerrymandering. This is a great website for anyone seeking to become more engaged in the election process.

Drexel University’s Drexel Votes provides a comprehensive guide for students that includes information on voting in Pennsylvania, how to register, voting by mail and the 2023 Primary Election.  Information on the Philadelphia primary includes a listing of candidates for every office, a map of each council district and the ballot questions.

Despite what some think, the youth vote has increased.  Just like in previous generations, today’s youth are recognizing the importance becoming fully-engaged in the election process, and making sure their voices are heard at the polls and beyond. One vote can make a difference.


Youth Leadership and Advocacy

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