It may be 2010 but President Obama is trying to do what both his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, tried to do before him, which is get young voters to “Rock the Vote”. The phrase often used during the early 1990s described the initiative which found singers, rappers, actors and other entertainers trying to bridge the gap between popular culture and politics, and such efforts may have been reinvigorated with Thursday’s youth town hall.
During the televised event hosted by BET, CMT, and MTV, the president took questions before an audience of 250 young people from diverse backgrounds. There were also an untold number of young people watching on television, via live stream over the Internet, or keeping up with the discussion on Twitter. The president’s hope in reaching out is that young voters will show up on Election Day, and choose between the candidates, hopefully casting a vote for the embattled Democrats.
Given the hardships faced by young African-Americans including near 50 percent teen unemployment, many political observers are unsure if young black voters will be willing to help Democrats hold onto control of Congress.
A new Pew Research poll says that 27 percent of young voters who identify as a Democrat have given a significant amount of thought to this year’s midterm election, down 20 points from the last midterm election four years ago.
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE OF THE YOUTH SUMMIT:
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Just two years ago the economy was what was on the mind for voters and it’s the same way today.
William Kellibrew IV is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Initiatives for the “National Coalition on Black Civic Participation”:http://www.ncbcp.org/; he has traveled the country and talked to numerous young people.
“Young people are tired of hearing about prosperity; they are ready for job creation. We have to get young people working faster or see them making decisions, negative decisions that will impact their lives for years to come,” he said.
Tiffany Palmer, 24, is a government engineer in Washington, who has numerous friends who have been affected by the economic downturn from which the U.S. is still recovering.
“A lot of my friends are out of work, and I went to a top 20 university. I’m an engineer and usually we’re one of those areas where jobs are secure, and we can’t even find jobs,” she said.
Other issues on the minds of young voters ranged from how the president can do a better job of working with members of the Republican Party, his plans to improve the nation’s education system, ensure college affordability, deal with illegal immigration, and encourage an appreciation of diversity.“It was a really important event because young people need to keep hearing from our president. They were instrumental in getting him elected in the first place. I like to think that BET had a lot to do with that, getting the young vote out, so it’s important that he keeps that dialogue going,” said Debra Lee, CEO and Chairwoman of BET Networks.
CIRCLE or The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement said immediately following the 2008 election that of the 64 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds who voted for President Obama in 2008 19 percent were African-American.
Stefanie Brown, Director of the NAACP Youth & College Division isn’t surprised by the figure and says that African-American youth are one of the most politically savvy and politically active demographics.
Brown acknowledged, “At the end of the day our generation [18-29-year-olds], we want people to show and prove.”
Emmanuel Bagumira a 24-year-old community college student would have hoped he could ask the President, “if given a chance to evaluate what he has done, and how he personally rates himself performance wise since he got into office.”
Some of the tough questions posed to the president included a question as to why he hasn’t done more to end the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy or how to quicken the immigration process for those hoping to become U.S. citizens.
Bagumira added, “Just because President Obama hasn’t done what we expected shouldn’t mean we aren’t passionate.”
He doesn’t think he’ll vote in November but Tiffany Palmer says she will. Both say the friends they talk to intend to vote.
Brown hopes that young people will realize, “One of the greatest equalizers in our society is the right to vote.”
Kayla Webb another town hall participant thinks that a renewed blend of pop and politics could be crucial in this election.
“I don’t think it’s as euphoric as it was in 2008. You had a lot of celebrities coming out in the 2008 election, in 2004 Diddy did the “Vote or Die.” I feel like now with the midterms no one really pays attention, and I feel like every time there’s an election there needs to be a get out to vote campaign,” Webb said.
In spite of all the polls and the conventional wisdom President Obama told audience members that he himself is hopeful.
“What gives me hope is all of you. What makes me afraid is because there are problems…people get discouraged when they don’t get solved right away,” President Obama said.
Brown is also hopeful.
“If everyone voted in 2008 votes again in 2010, a step above that if everybody in 2008 brings just one friend to vote, then that would be awesome.”