Co-written by Emily Greenhouse
For the last few years students have been steadily debunking the old saw that young people are politically apathetic. Young people might not be nearly as engaged with Iraq and the widening gap between rich and poor as some older folks might like. But, then, neither are the majority of Americans in any age group.
Overall, students are actually far more focused on ending the war and taking part in the electoral system than many of their generational counterparts. A new national student group offers yet another example of students pouring their energy into something other than parties or resumes. The Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE), a for-youth by-youth organization aims to increase electoral participation among young voters by making the system more accessible and by striving to underscore the importance of voting on their lives.
SAVE has mustered support from several former politicians, and is already planning for a Congressional hearing this month in which a panel of ten students will testify before Congress detailing voting problems in the 2004 and 2006 elections. One student will speak on behalf of undergraduates at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio — the swing state who many believe wound up costing John Kerry the 2004 election – who waited in line to vote for as long as ten hours.
The group is now seeking to start chapters on college campuses across the country, where members can supplement traditional efforts to ‘get-out-the-vote’ with its student-led outreach and emphasis on civic engagement through civic education for young people. After-school tutoring programs, public issues forums, and coalition-building with politically-engaged organizations on campus are all part of the group’s mission. Under the guidance of founding board member Hilary Shelton, Director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, the group also plans to launch a minority awareness campaign to highlight voter discrimination, obstacles to full voting rights and ways to combat these efforts at disenfranchisement.
SAVE is also trying to launch its own youth poll worker program, in which young people will be able to take charge of elections as administrators and monitors on Election Day–the average age of poll workers at the last national election was 72!–as well as an ambitious website which it envisions functioning in partnership with FaceBook and YouTube as the ultimate forum for young people to discuss electoral issues with message boards, surveys, polls, quizzes, contests and electoral tools and resources.
“By arming young people with the knowledge to navigate the political process via a commitment to dialogue, issues awareness, and interaction with local government,” SAVE’s mission statement states, “we hope to create a foundation for life-long participation in the democratic system.”
Click here if you want to help SAVE build this foundation.