In recent weeks, over 100 volunteers hit the streets all over Chicago as part of the new group, Progressive Alliance - Cook County (PA - CC). Our goal: to register as many young voters as possible before the October 5 registration deadline.
During a single crisp fall weekend, PA - CC volunteers logged 500+ man-hours, registering over 700 new voters. To ensure this was the beginning of a lasting, involved community for new and existing registrants alike, we also collected almost a thousand email addresses.
You might have seen us wearing simple stickers asking, "Are you registered to vote?," anywhere from Hyde Park and Chatham on the south side to Uptown and Rogers Park up north. Our effort targeted a quarter of the wards in Chicago, and specifically those with the highest percentage of young people.
With participation of younger voters in both Presidential and mid-term elections rising steadily since 2002, and with the dramatic spike in the youth vote in 2008, keeping this demographic engaged during a typically depressed mid-term election year is hugely important to ensuring those new voters stay on track.
Around the city, our volunteers were also learning new tactics and reflecting on why they were there. In Edgewater, PA - CC member Katrina Weimholt, a veteran of voter registration drives, told us, "it's much easier to get young people excited about voting when you don't force an issue or candidate on them; they'll listen to you when you encourage them to start participating in politics and elections by getting them registered to vote."
A new volunteer, Ankur Sisodia, a recent Northwestern graduate and consultant in Chicago, said he "dislikes the current political landscape" but thinks that people should be involved with their communities, which is why he was helping to register voters on a Sunday morning.
Ankur and Katrina are both part of PA - CC, a diverse coalition of emerging leaders working to engage and unify the many progressive organizations in Cook County. As a group, we've found that the combination of peer-to-peer organizing used in tandem with direct voter contact, provides an optimal model for reaching under-35 population. For a tech-savvy demographic, that model allows for connecting the dots extremely quickly, and at a negligible cost.
The Alliance's base and target audience is the Millennial Generation--which recent elections have shown to be the most progressive voting generation in history. It's a demographic that could swing the results not only of the November 2 midterm and gubernatorial elections, but that will have a huge impact in the upcoming Chicago mayoral race. After all, no one under 40 has ever had the opportunity to vote in a mayoral race in Chicago in which Mayor Daley was not a candidate.
The Progressive Alliance isn't endorsing any one candidate this cycle. We know that, despite the fundamentally progressive nature of our generation, the most important thing is that we get into the habit of voting every time--not just in presidential years, and not just for one party or another. Our goal is to help make sure that Millennials in Cook County are not only the most progressive generation, but also the most politically engaged and aware generation to date.
The Alliance is here to prove that our generation is not only registered to vote, but we're paying attention. And as Cook County will see on November 2, we're not just watching from the sidelines. In one of the closest races in the country, our generation might just be all the difference. In fact, we're counting on it.
- Karlo Marcelo and Maceo Brown, Steering Committee, Progressive Alliance - Cook County