In the US, New Voters Project are working hard to make sure young people are getting their voice heard. This is their story.
The United States (US) democracy – and every democracy – works best when everyone takes part and weighs in on who gets elected.
This is mainly what stands as the core belief of the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) New Voters Project, which is America’s oldest and largest non-partisan youth voter mobilisation programme, working on over 100 campuses in over a dozen states to activate the largest voting block in the country.
During the 2020 election cycle, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, its student-powered team worked at 200 college campuses to increase the youth vote from 2016 levels and give thousands of student leaders a crash course in organising and activism.
How does the organisation keep up the nearly 50-years-long contribution and also adapt to the additional needs and circumstances, and what are some of the biggest challenges and successes it has witnessed along the path?
In this piece, Manny Rin, Director, New Voters Project at Student PIRGs speaks about this, and other aspects of their work with Youth Time contributor Gresë Sermaxhaj.
He underlines their adaptation to a society where campus life moved online and an election with several new ways for new voters to cast their ballots and shares an inspiring message for all young people.
Keep reading this interview and hear from a young activist who stepped up to make the world a better place for everyone.
Inspiring Historic 2021 Youth Voter Turnout
As was the case nearly 50 years ago, he recalls, the social change work by the Student PIRGs continues to be driven by students on their college campus.
“As an organisation our mission is to provide, support, training, and resources to students to make a positive difference in their communities.”
That means their work and their organising is consistently meeting students where their needs are.
“The combination of our successful organising model we have honed for nearly 50 years and the passion of today’s young people contribute to our overall success in helping students get civically engaged,” Rin explains
He further emphasises the past year was unlike any other with a once in a lifetime global pandemic affecting society, higher education institutions, and elections too.
“Adapting to a society where campus life was shifted online and an election with several new ways for new voters to cast their ballots – like voting by mail and voting early – made the work we did to educate and turn out voters even more important,” he underlines.
Despite those challenges, the U.S saw historic youth voter turnout in the fall 2020 election.
“A significant reason for this was the organising done by students to reach their peers and help them vote.
“The New Voters Project reached over one million students virtually through phone calls, text messages, emails, online events to make sure they had everything they needed to vote by Election Day.”
Voting as Part of Everyday Campus Life
Besides, another initiative New Voters Project is working on is institutionalising voting on college campuses by making voting registration, education, and turn out a part of everyday campus life.
“This looks different at every campus but some examples include: making voter registration a part of new student orientations, creating a civic engagement course for all freshmen, or adding an on-campus polling location.”
Schools that have taken actions like these have seen significant increases in voter turnout.
“In order to implement these policies, student leaders are building diverse coalitions of student groups, faculty, administrators and election officials.”
He believes the issues that young people care about are being discussed in the halls of power, whether then be federally, state-wide, or local
“The environment, racial justice, jobs and the economy, college affordability, healthcare are all issues that young people have a unique perspective on compared to other generations,” Rin adds.
They are, he believes, because of years of organizing to turn out the vote amongst new voters.
“While voter participation is at an all-time high, in order for this trend to continue, young people still need to turn out.
“We see a significant drop in turnout amongst this age group during midterm elections and local elections.”
Hence, the work the New Voters Project does to recruit, train, and mobilize students on issues year round is important to ensure their voices will continue to be heard and their issues addressed.
The Power of Young People
Believing that the full participation of young people in the political process is essential to a true representative, Rin concludes young people have the power to change the world, and we witnessed this throughout history.
“Our ability to make change is only limited by our ability to be organized and work together.
“The noble thing is everyone has it in themselves to do this. Talk to one person, then another, then another. Every movement started with people talking to people.
He also draws a parallel: what the world will look like in the next 50 to 100 years will come down to our [young people’s] ability to effectively do this in our communities, so let’s get to work!
PIRG is doing an amazing job in uniting students to create a greener, healthier, more meaningful future in the U.S.
It works with professional staff at colleges and universities to make sure their peers have the skills, opportunities and training they need to create a better, more sustainable future for all of them.
Here’s another inspiring story from PIRG:
World Environment Day: Highlighting Youth Activism in the U.S
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