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Christina Gorczynski – Mission Possible: Youth Engagement

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Christina Gorczynski

Ask the League of Women Voters to do a guest blog and what do you get? Brace yourself, readers, for a civic engagement pep talk.

The year was 1920. The National American Woman Suffrage Association had chalked up victory: the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution was adopted and women at last won the right to vote. The next step? Morph that Suffrage Association into a League of Women Voters and work in communities all over the country to teach a brand-new voting population about the candidates and the issues with the goal of encouraging voters to cast an informed ballot. It’s been nine-two years and we’re still at it. Because it still works.

Presently, the League is engaging youth voters and we need your help. If you’re between the ages of 18 to 25 and you’re reading this you’re politically engaged, and that’s especially significant because half of your contemporaries are not. Though many are not politically active, according to statistics, they are civically-engaged, which provides you an opportunity to draw them into the political process. More individuals between the ages of 18 to 25 volunteer in their communities, share opinions about politics and contact their elected officials than actually vote. They are interested and clearly care about their communities.

Young people volunteer for youth, civic/neighborhood, issue-specific and faith-based organizations at a much higher rate than they vote, participate in elections or volunteer for political campaigns/organizations. They have not made the connections between issues, elections, laws and policies and they are waiting for invitations and role models.

According to research, the young people who do get involved with politics are trying to solve a particular social issue and they are highly likely to be involved because someone invited them to participate. They are likely to stay involved if they have role models who teach them how to engage in democracy, and you are those role models. Our system is counting on you to educate your peers, so consider this article as my personal invitation to you.

If you want to engage young people, the first step is meeting them where they are. Volunteer for a youth-based organization. Step out of the political field to coach youth sports, participate in a mentoring program, judge a high school debate contest, sponsor a scout troop or teach a class at your place of worship. Invite them to make civic life part of their life. Better yet, come volunteer for the League of Women Voters to visit high schools with me.

When you engage in face-to-face, peer-to-peer communication with young people on their turf, you have the power to make an impact and the next step is registering them to vote. Tell young people that their opinions matter and that they have ideas that can resolve social problems. Assume that they are not registered, and know that once registered, they become more likely to vote and more likely to pay attention to your calls to action.

As far as calls to action, I will provide you with suggestions and encourage you use your own best instincts. Rock The Vote produced this excellent resource for candidates and campaigns regarding youth engagement which encourages asking new voters to make a pledge to vote. The advice seems sound and they provide statistics on effectiveness.

My personal favorite call to action is to tell them to contact their elected officials to provide feedback and ask questions. I walk them through the process of figuring out who represents them in Washington, Austin, and Houston. Next, I provide them with the League of Women

Voters of Houston Directory of Elected Officials which is a list of contact information for every official who represents the people of Harris County. You can also encourage them to interact with candidates, political groups and elected officials on Facebook and Twitter.

Be prepared to hear that one vote doesn’t matter. Be prepared to hear that whole elections don’t matter. Don’t buy any of it. Remember that elections are the way we make decisions; that they’re the way we extend what’s right and fix what’s wrong and get on with the business of creating happiness and prosperity. You are part of our national conversation and make America the place we want it to be.

And remember that the League of Women Voters is here to help.

Christina Canales Gorczynski is the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Houston. You can contact Christina via email [email protected] and via Twitter
The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area is a nonpartisan political organization which works to promote civic responsibility through informed and active participation in government.
Thank you to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University for the extensive research in the field of youth engagement. Thank you also to Rock the Vote and Texas League of Young Voters for their work to register young people.

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One Comment

  1. BK says:

    Excellent cause and program. Our society needs LWV.