The Collaborative: A Memphis Model on How to Mobilize Thousands Of Voters Under 35

In a recent trip to Memphis, we met organizers who have started a collaborative effort to uplift the political power of millennials for the 2016 election. Though local in its approach, the model has national implications. The author, and Collaborator co-founder, writes that the political expressions of her generation haven't gone away, it just "looks different."


Members of the Collaborative with the author in center. (Photo by Nicholas Scott Hall)

Why Don’t Young People Vote?

In 2008, young adults ran to the polls to cast our votes for democratic candidate Barack Obama in record numbers. We voted for the candidate who spoke of a progressive, transformative, and inclusive nation that gave us hope. We championed Obama’s vision in our homes, throughout our neighborhoods, on our campuses, and across the web. We believed that a candidate who wants to make a difference can make a difference. In our minds, it was just that simple.

Soon after his successful bid for the White House, President Obama (and the rest of the world) learned that the game of partisan politics would soon silence our confident “Yes We Can” mantra. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if healthcare reform was good for the people; it mattered that a Democrat was spearheading the effort and not a Republican. It didn’t matter if our assurance of equity and equality or support of entrepreneurship and education could set the standard for the rest of the free world. Instead, media messages focused on the birth of the radical tea party movement and the complete dismantling of our government as we know it.

Capitol Hill became… alienating. The drama, the lobbyists, and the big data campaigns that encourage candidates to pursue older voters instead of fickle millennials: those factors led to a dip in millennial voter turnout in 2012. 

Local and state races weren’t much better; candidates had no financial incentive (read: not enough money) to pursue our unreliable votes and all but guaranteed our silence during midterm elections, too. 

Should We Forget About Millennials? 

But don’t be discouraged. Young voters have been here, paying attention, and working hard. Our work just looks different. According to a recent study by Harvard University, young adults are most likely to galvanize in support of a political issue. The Black Lives Matter movement, the rainbow-striped Facebook profile pictures, the Twitter discussions about Supreme Court shortcomings… we’ve rallied in the streets, disrupted shopping malls, launched YouTube shows to inform millions of our peers, written letters to our officials, volunteered for candidates and causes we believe in, raised millions (and millions) of dollars to support our communities, and the list goes on and on. We’re present.

Still, we failed to go to the polls and cast our votes for a system we’re afraid to believe in. Today, we reflect on our decision to disassociate from the people in politics and we’ve decided to face our own truth: Our action birthed President Barack Obama; our inaction birthed Donald Trump for president. 

How Do We Fix It?

Remember when we were in grade school? Inspirational posters decorated our classrooms. One that seems particularly fitting today is this mobilizing gem: T.E.A.M – Together Everyone Achieves More. 

This classic acronym turned mission statement is what birthed the I Am A Voter Collaborative. Nearly a dozen local groups - with a combined network of over 100,000 Memphians - have joined forces to empower, educate, and encourage our youngest population of voters to get to the polls.

Some thought our book was finished, but we’ve added a new chapter. Experience has taught us that supporting the candidate(s) with the “can-do” attitude isn’t good enough, but it’s an essential part of the equation. In our antiquated system of government, our vote remains our voice. Sure, our activism has initiated conversations led by candidate Bernie Sanders on the value of black lives. Our social media campaigns have emboldened candidate Hillary Clinton to push harder for equal pay for women. Our outrage and resounding protests have forced Republican candidates to stand against the hate-filled rhetoric of their Party’s likely nominee. 

And so, we will continue to march and write letters and volunteer and tweet. Because our action matters. That said, we will also vote… because our inaction could prove detrimental to the future of our nation.

With the support of The River City Chapter of The Links, Inc. - a local auxiliary of a national network of civically-astute women – our Collaborative will spend the next several months registering voters, hosting educational seminars and mixers, and ultimately reigniting the presence of local millennial voters at the polls.

Our voice, volunteerism, and our vote must work in one accord to accomplish the change we believe in.

I Am A Voter. Are you? 

(The piece first appeared in the The Tri-State Defender.)

 

Related Media:
San Jose Ramping Up Efforts for Citizenship

My First Felony Leads Me To My First Time Voting

San Jose State University: From Progress to Bigotry 

About Danielle Inez

Danielle Inez is a mother, entrepreneur, and advocate for the people. She is the founder of Millennials For Memphis, a nonprofit collective of over 1,000 young people who invest in progressive local communities.

This article is part of the categories: Community  / Economy  / Law & Justice  / Politics 
This article is part of the tags: elections  / Millenials  / The Collaborative  / Young voters 

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