When I was in college, I worked for a non-profit, unaffiliated organization that registered people to vote, specifically targeting young people. We would drive to supermarkets and movie theaters, wherever there was foot-traffic, and attempt to register people on their way to and from buying their groceries, or from watching their Scary Movie 3’s.
For those of you who have never “canvassed” before, I suggest you give it a try–in the way a relative wryly suggests that you to try the flaming blowfish platter at the local hibachi place. Your mom would probably call canvassing a “character building” experience. Naturally, whenever someone is spotted in a public place with a clipboard, the first assumption is that they’re selling something. The second is that if they aren’t hawking cutlery, then they must be proselytizing or involved in some didactic cause, like petitioning to save the woodland mollusk or an equally ridiculous, half-mythological creature.
Canvassing can be extremely frustrating, sometimes even degrading (I had a septuagenarian attempt to smite me and my clipboard), but also equally rewarding (a schoolteacher bought me lunch and gave me a pat on the head). In the end, it wasn’t so much about meeting my quota and registering 15 people a day to vote (which is surprisingly difficult), it was about meeting regular people and learning what makes them tick. Trolling the parking lots and sidewalks, I found myself getting into countless strange yet gratifying conversations with people from all over the country, on a host of different topics. Though some of them were heated, the majority remained civil and non-partisan, as young people spoke frankly about the issues that mattered to them. The thing that stuck with me the most (because it came up most frequently) was that my generation— the infamous “Millennials” —was fundamentally disillusioned with the political process. In the mind of Generation Y, there was no outlet for their collective voice.
Now, it seems, there is something to believe in, something to fight for. Take that as you may. In the primaries this year, 6.5 million people under the age of 30 were motivated to get out to the polls—double the youth turnout of the 2000 election. In response, Campus Progress Action, a “non-profit, non-partisan organization that aims to support the activism and journalism of young people in the United States who support progressive policies” launched something called “I’m Voting For”. I’m Voting For is an online video testimonial project that offers young people a forum to discuss the life experiences and issues that will drive them to vote in the upcoming election. As a testament to the project’s success, the site has already seen hundreds of uploads and expects thousands more.
From health care, to the war in Iraq, to research and technology, these kids of all shapes, sizes, and colors have recorded videos that make me proud to be a member of my generation. It’s great to see that there are young people across the country taking the reins and getting involved in the democratic process again, showing that the future of this country matters to them and that they’re going to be active participants in shaping these United States of America. It’s one thing to sit back and complain, it’s another to stand up and do somethign about it.
Generation Y has been called the “Entitled Generation,” what do you think has changed for young people? And will it stick?