Thoughts on Getting Millennials to Vote
Do you know who Representative John Lewis is?
He’s a rather inspiring man who currently serves in the US Congress. He is an old head civil rights activist whose name is in the history books, and one of the few alive today to tell the tales of what really went down in the fight for equality for African-Americans in education, voting rights, and housing back when my parents were just children.
He thinks young people need to get out and vote because people fought and died for their right to. Because he fought and his friends died, young people today need to quit thinking whatever they’re currently thinking and go exercise their right to vote.
I happen to agree with him that everyone should vote. But his line of reasoning….. um…. I don’t think it’s effective. And it definitely can come across as a bit out of touch.
A lot of older people are dismissed as being out of touch with younger people. They try to appeal to younger people based on values (perhaps values of days gone by) that are no longer shared. Young people respond with some variation of, “I don’t appreciate your set of values because I’ve been taught something different. Where were you when the teaching was happening?”
When it comes to Rep. John Lewis, I can happily say that he has tried to be a part of the voice of education for youth. He reaches out in ways big and small to try and make sure some of his values and beliefs are seeds sown into the next generation.
In spite of the ways he works so hard to reach younger people, I still think his closing argument needs work. I say that while also believing that the reasons that he and his friends and colleagues fought for their rights and our are unimpeachable.
They fought for a better tomorrow. They fought so that I can vote and theoretically not be discriminated against for my color. A lot of people died so I can go on a 15 min morning date with my husband to the polls on Tuesday morning. That argument resonates with me because of the values I was raised with.
For those not raised with that set of values, it’s a harder argument to hear and have resonate with you. Honestly, the reasoning that made sense to them then and still makes sense to them now is… well, it’s about them. It’s about their fight and their legacy and their opinions of themselves.
It’s no wonder that younger Gen Xers and millennials (and whatever they call those born from 1975-1979) give that argument the side eye. We are the royalty of navel-gazing, self-focused, introspective, thinking-about-me-before-you, personal-happiness-above-all-else thought processes.
If you wanna reach more of us, you’ve gotta answer the question:
What’s in it for me?
I don’t have the answer on what to say. I haven’t been successful in getting people who don’t plan on voting to change their minds. But I’ve seen engagement work in some instances.
There is success in some areas by actually talking to younger people instead of at them. Engaging people my age in a conversation about why it’s important to vote (and to vote in the interest of yourself and those you care about) is not easy. There is no one tweet or tweet thread that will get the job done.
That level of engagement has to happen in small conversations. But they’re powerful conversations. Not a lot of millennials understand the electoral process and fewer get or even care why it’s important. Giving them that small bit of knowledge works, as long as it’s followed by one important question:
What’s in it for you?
If you can get a real answer back, you’ve just gained an engaged citizen, who will hopefully take part in many elections over the course of their life.
John Lewis and his books and crowd-surfing can’t get it done alone. If you believe in our democracy and our electoral process and you know younger people who don’t, bone up on the basic facts of how elections work and what decisions elected officials are in charge of at the local, state, and national level.
After you’ve done that, talk to young people. Share what you know. Pass on the knowledge. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be personally responsible for helping continue the legacy of equal voting rights that so many fought and died to get.