For the millennial generation, this 4th of July weekend is about more than barbecues, fireworks, and celebrating America's 234th year of independence. For them, the biggest generation in American history, this 4th of July marks the beginning of a new era, a new decade of civic engagement.
Young people know that their vote influences issues that affect their lives. Students at state universities care that the cost of college is rising every year. Millennials across the country want to know how the new healthcare plan affects them. Those who are unemployed await news on the next jobs bill, as youth ages 16 to 24 face the highest unemployment rate for their age group since 1947. While no one is running for president this year, young people know that all of these issues are at stake in the upcoming midterm elections, and that the outcomes of these local and regional races will play a pivotal role in shaping their future.
Skeptics expect little from midterms, but Millennials expect a great deal from themselves. The momentum has been building since 2000, and this generation hopes to continue their successes from the last decade into this one. Just like the increases we saw in participation during presidential election years, the number of young people who turned out for midterm elections is on the rise. In 2006, young voter turnout increased by 2 million voters over 2002 turnout, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. The Millennial generation views 2010 as a challenge to push this exciting trend, and Rock the Vote is doing everything we can to help by executing the most aggressive midterm election campaign in our organization's 20-year history.
We have people in numerous states, including Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Colorado, organizing the efforts of young people who are inspired to get out the vote on Nov. 2. As our eyes and ears on the ground, these state coordinators are listening to young people and learning what will send them to the polls this fall.
"Young people of Florida are very concerned about the oil spill," says Blaire Yancy, 22, our State Coordinator in Florida. "They see industries on their coast hurting, but they aren't just sitting at home talking about it. They are getting involved and trying to support the economy."
Blaire also identifies Florida's recent 15% tuition hike as a big issue for young people, saying: "We have hundreds of thousands of young people attending public universities in Florida. With the tuition increase, they are asking how we can reform student loans."
Serious problems also face young people in Ohio, where State Coordinator Rob Abraham, 24, has found jobs to be a crucial issue.
"In my time in Columbus, I've talked with many college students and local activists. They are concerned about the economy and their job prospects for when they graduate college."
These young people are eager to have their voices heard. Our State Coordinators proudly coordinated events yesterday to celebrate the 4th of July, where they spoke with hundreds of enthusiastic young people. In Philadelphia, Colin Hicks spent the day on the Ben Franklin Parkway, featuring music from the Goo Goo Dolls and the Roots. In Boulder, Kyle Hamm was on hand with New Era Colorado at the Folsom Field Fireworks show. In Raleigh, Tracy Leatherberry was at the State Fair Grounds. In Columbus, Rob registered voters at the Doo Dah Parade and Festival, and in Orlando Blaire was on hand at Lake Eola Park for a giant celebration with an expected crowd of over 150,000.
This weekend is only the kick-off to what is undoubtedly going to be a critical year in our nation - and our generation's - history, in which despite setbacks young people will once again be called upon to serve as our country's conscience and visionaries for a future for which they will be responsible. From what we're hearing, their spirits are strong, and their optimism is unwavering.
"Young people are innovative and have an entrepreneurial spirit that will guide them through all this," says Blaire of her peers.
This 4th of July weekend, we salute the heroic efforts of the next generation, who, facing a great deal of uncertainty, will not give up. Remember, however, that the celebration of democracy need not end when the fireworks have faded, for there is no better way to celebrate your independence than to cast your vote this fall.
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