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Don't Just Vote--Change the World | The Nation

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Don't Just Vote--Change the World

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This was originally published by WireTap magazine.

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Jamilah King

October 10, 2008

How will you feel on November 5, 2008?

Chances are, you'll either be ecstatic or crying hysterically, depending on who wins the presidential election. But as campaign anticipation fades and the reality of a new administration sets in, we'll be looking for our next president to turn those lofty campaign promises into practical agenda items.

That's why WireTap, as a member of Generation Vote, is proud to introduce the Youth Agenda. Organizers representing upwards of 1.5 million young people from 20 organizations chose their top eight issues. As the first ever national issues agenda written by youth organizers from around the country, the platform is a national call to action around issues such as education, jobs and healthcare. The goal is to present our issues to the next presidential administration and rally them to take action. Less than two weeks after the election, young people from around the country will meet in Oakland at the Youth Policy Summit to strategize effective actions.

According to Mattie Weiss, Director of Campus Camp Wellstone and GenVote member, "We came to the pretty movement-changing realization that to win on all of these issues, we've got to start by winning on one."

You can get involved, too.

Take a look at the agenda, endorse it and pass it along.

Still need more information? We sat down with Mattie to talk about the significance of the Youth Agenda.

Why did Generation Vote collective decide to create a Youth Agenda?

We decided to create the Youth Agenda to document the issues young people face--and the youth-specific nuances of these issues that aren't part of the national political conversations. I think the other thing the Youth Agenda does is demonstrate that we not only have a multi-issue understanding of the problems we face, but that we have ideas about where we should be heading.

We talked about having a third paragraph under each issue, in which we outline actual policy solutions to these problems--specific bills and campaigns. But this is a place we're still developing into. We didn't want to rush that--so we're holding that agenda for our post-election work.

What was the process of writing it like?

Writing it was a beast! We went through so many edits and input sessions--we had to make sure all of the GenVote organizations felt represented by it but that it was also succinct and readable. The outcome of the writing process is what's most exciting to me. By working through which issues to focus on and how to represent them, we came to the pretty movement-changing realization that to win on all of these issues, we've got to start by winning on one. Out of this realization we decided that post-election we are going to choose 2-3 policy pieces that all of our organizations will throw their weight behind--even if this isn't their primary issue--in order to demonstrate the power of young people and to teach ourselves what it looks like to win.

What was the biggest challenge of creating a collective document that 20 organizations could get behind?

One of the biggest was actually around the framing of the piece. There was a real difference of opinion, with some people most concerned with connecting with our audience, writing in a language that we'd actually speak; and people who felt like this meant "dumbing down" the issues and our understanding of them. We tried to do both.

How will you be using it in your voter registration work?

As a member of the Twin Cities League of Young Voters, we will be using the Youth Agenda as a Voter Pledge. When you're out there doing voter registration, you get a lot of people passing you by, telling you they're already registered. This is a missed contact, a missed conversation. By having a Voter Pledge based on the Youth Agenda, where we asked people to sign on their commitment to actually vote on Election Day, we are able to gather a whole lot more peoples' data for get out the vote (GOTV) [work], and able to have that many more conversations with people about which issues they most care about, and which influence the way they will be voting in November.

How will you be using it after elections?

Here in Minneapolis and St. Paul we are keeping track of which issues rank highest among the young people we talk to, in order to develop our post-election policy campaign. All of the names we collect through GOTV will be used post-election to mobilize people around a few key policy campaigns that effect urban youth.

What three issues do you think you will organize around right after elections?

Based on the issues in the Youth Agenda, the top ones for Twin Cities youth are the following:

1. Higher Education
2. Health care
3. Economy/Jobs and Climate change (tied)

We're getting a lot of feedback about concern specifically around the racial justice aspect of these issues--so that will obviously impact how we frame the campaigns and what kinds of solutions we get behind.

After the Election, Generation Vote will hold a Policy Summit in California. This is where we begin to put our collective issue agenda to action.

We are currently working with policy organizations Demos, The Roosevelt Institute and Drum Major Institute to research upcoming local and national legislation around the issues laid out in the Youth Agenda. Once this information is pulled together we will collectively decide on 1-3 of the pieces of legislation that all the organizations will put their weight behind winning--be it in the field, through training, through media work, on campuses or in neighborhoods.

As a training program, Campus Camp Wellstone has a specific relationship to the Youth Agenda. We are committed to working with field organizations that focus on the issues of the Youth Agenda, to develop the skills and capacity to win on these issues.

Jamilah King is WireTap's associate editor. She is also a founder of The Playground collective blog.

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