From social media takeovers to day parties and videos, innovative voter mobilization efforts are aimed at getting Millennials and Generation Z to the polls for the November 6 midterm elections. Those efforts include targeted outreach to young African American voters.
At many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) nationwide, voter engagement is in full swing. Among them is Morgan State University in Baltimore, where a national organization called Black Girls Vote, Inc. recently launched its first collegiate chapter on the campus.
“Our members have registered more than 500 students on campus, and are providing peer-to-peer education on the electoral process,” said Nykidra Robinson, founder/ CEO of Black Girls Vote.
For instance, on the first day of early voting in Maryland, Black Girls Vote and Tumblr partnered to host “A Social Experience” using social media and direct action to reach potential voters at colleges and high schools in the region. The day’s activities incorporated a DJ, dance floor, a photo booth, swag and free food. “We marched to the polls from Morgan,” said Robinson.
Reaching Out to the Youth
Meanwhile, the youth divisions of civil rights organizations–the NAACP, National Urban League, National Action Network (NAN) and others–continue their longstanding efforts to reach young African American voters.
Ebonie Riley, NAN’s Washington D.C. Bureau Chief, believes the Black vote matters now more than ever before. “We must vote locally and down the ballot,” she said. “We must vote because our lives depend on it.”
According to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout among Black Millennials was about 49 percent in 2016, down from 55 percent in 2012. Overall, various data suggests upwards of 40 million Millennials did not vote in the 2016 election. That could change in 2018: a new study from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics indicated some 40 percent of Millennials plan to vote in the midterms next week.
Many organizations are collaborating to get the message to young voters. For instance, Black fraternities and sororities were part of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” initiative.
Elsewhere, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) joined forces with the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame and the HBCU Green Fund. Together, they recently launched the “Black Youth Vote! 2018 HBCU Campus and Community Vote Your Power 30-Day GOTV Challenge.” Organizers say the goal is to “leverage the power of the Black youth electorate to make positive social change and win on the issues they care about in their communities.”
What are those issues? “The Influencing Young America to Act Study,” offers insight into views of more than 1,000 younger Americans aged 18-to-30. The recent study comes from researchers at INFLUENCE|SG, in partnership with the Case Foundation.
Key findings: 95 percent of younger Americans polled see voting as one’s duty, and nearly 75 percent view voting as a form of activism. The study showed the top issue is civil rights/racial discrimination. Other social issues included: Gun Rights (22%), Immigration (21%), Climate Change (21%), Healthcare Reform, followed by Job Creation and Employment (18%).
Respondents also revealed social justice movements that influenced them to act, among them, BlackLivesMatter, MeToo, and the Women’s March.
DeJuana Thompson of Think Rubix is a political strategist in her 30s. She’s one of the visionaries behind Woke Vote, which works to mobilize African American Millennials and churches around elections.
“We are trying to reach an epic percentage of Black voters going into the midterm elections,” Thompson told theGrio.com, noting that their work focuses primarily on Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and other southern states. “We’re taking a multi-layered approach,” she said, citing traditional door knocking, phone banks, a digital program, targeted mail program, Black radio, faith engagement programs, HBCU partnerships and strategic community investment.
Young, Gifted, and Black
Groups like The Collective PAC, Higher Heights for America, BlackPAC, and others have young Black leaders at the helm who’ve been aggressively fundraising for African American candidates, doing grassroots organizing and more.
Color of Change bills itself as the country’s largest online racial justice group. Its political action committee is focused on building independent Black political power at the local and national level.
Arisha Hatch, who heads the Color of Change PAC, said they have held more than 60 brunches, cookouts and neighborhood block parties in cities like Atlanta this election cycle. These “Black Joy” events have drawn thousands of attendees, she said. “We believe young Black voters are the future power base not just of our community but really the entire progressive movement,” said Hatch.
Get out the vote efforts nationwide are not limited to one political party, noteworthy, since experts say many young Americans aren’t necessarily bound by party affiliation.
Both the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and Republican National Committee (RNC) have young African Americans staffers whose responsibilities include voter engagement and the Green Party is fielding young Black candidates across the country.
READ MORE: INTERVIEW: Malcolm D. Lee wants to make you laugh and think with his new Knock the Vote videos
Hollywood Steps Up
Meanwhile, young Black celebs such as Yara Shahidi and Chance the Rapper are using their platforms to encourage political engagement. One new nonpartisan organization, Show Up 2018, has partnered with actress Aja Naomi King from How to Get Away with Murder to urge young voter participation. They have released a new video featuring King.
“Whether it’s getting access to contraception, keeping young immigrants with their families, or making sure Black and brown people aren’t unfairly profiled by law enforcement, there will be very real consequences to voting in the Midterms on November 6,” King said. “Make sure your voice is heard, because whoever we elect will make critical decisions about our lives and our bodies and our futures.”
ACRONYM is another organization that aims to reaching voters where they are. The group has teamed with Night School director Malcolm D. Lee to produce a series of ads parodying white voters for calling the police on black people for living their daily lives.
The ads, titled “Call the Cops,” will run within ACRONYM’s Knock the Vote campaign, a program designed to mobilize apathetic and young voters with content that calls out racism, sexism and bigotry through comedic and provocative messages.
Meanwhile, March For Our Lives and We Stand United have also released a PSA featuring Zoë Kravitz, Chadwick Boseman and other stars.It’s called “My First Time” and urges all Americans, particularly young first-time voters, to turn out the vote in the November 6 midterm elections. See link to video here.
Uber and Lyft have already announced they’ll provide free and discounted rides to the polls.
A new Hollywood political organization called OMG WTF (and its companion effort OMG WTF Action) has already begun providing free bus rides via its Ballot Bus effort.
Funny or Die alum Ben Sheehan, who launched the nonpartisan organization to target voters 18 to 35, indicated the bus will help college students and young people take part in early voting in Texas and Florida. The rides will be hosted by a special guest, and there will be entertainment, interactive surprises and educational activities.
As in previous years, the youth vote is expected to be an important demographic in the upcoming midterm elections, especially in the numerous close races around the country.
Learn more about theGrio’s stance on the midterm elections’ important issues impacting Black America by reading our manifesto and following the #BlackVoterPower hashtag.