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Joy Lawson Headshot

Young People Are Working to Make Their Voices Heard This Election Season -- Are We Listening?

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In the laundry list of popular stereotypes of young people, political apathy features prominently. It's the Me Generation. Generation Entitlement. Young people, we are told, care more about Lady Gaga's latest outfit than about the upcoming election.

From my vantage point as director of People For the American Way Foundation's "Young People For" program, and as a former student organizer myself, I see a very different picture.

The picture I see each day is of young people devoting long hours to planning effective campus and community outreach for engaging other young voters. I hear from college organizers that are putting together voter registration drives in California, concerts in Illinois, and phone banks in Ohio. Students in Texas are coordinating rides to the polls from low-income communities. I see students in Florida donning fangs, witch hats, or werewolf manes for "Trick or Vote" events -- and other fresh twists on GOTV campaigns.

But these aren't the stories we're hearing about. Last week Harvard University's Institute of Politics released data from their Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service, a national survey of more than 2,000 young people between ages 18 and 29. Their survey found that while 67 percent of the youth surveyed indicated that they are registered to vote, fewer than half said that they "definitely will vote" this Election Day. These are troubling numbers, to be sure. Still, what is not being highlighted in the conversation about young people and the election are the many youth who are working to change these numbers -- working to get their peers excited about voter registration, voter education, and voting itself.

They are out there. My organization, for example, has worked with campus leaders to center GOTV efforts around a campaign called ARRIVE WITH 5, which encourages youth, people of color, women, seniors and persons with disabilities to become active participants in the electoral process. ARRIVE WITH 5 asks voters to not only pledge to vote on Election Day, but to list five people they know and are committed to bringing to the polls.

Young people are taking this approach because it works. Studies show that social pressure is a powerful motivator for voting. When people have friends who are voting -- and talking to them about voting -- they are more likely to vote themselves. It is a positive chain reaction that young leaders across the country are capitalizing on to get out the youth vote.

Despite all the talk about youth apathy, many young people are mobilizing their peers to increase civic engagement and make their voices heard -- perhaps we're just not listening hard enough.

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