We got power in our veins.
Those were the words of young Oakland poet Anat’sia King, who kicked off an hourlong panel discussion on voter turnout among young people held Oct. 17 in Oakland.
King’s words mirrored the message of the five panelists — though everyone acknowledged it’s an uphill battle.
Only 8 percent of California young people age 18 to 24 voted in the 2014 midterms, and almost half of young adults in that age group were not even registered to vote that year, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office.
But most of the five panelists at the event were intent on changing those numbers.
Many of them are trying to register younger voters and, just as importantly, show them that their vote can have an impact.
“Some of them are politically inclined but they may not see the importance of voting, or see the correlation between voting and the issues they’re worried about,” said panelist Des McSwain of the Black Organizing Project. “We have to start small.”
YR Media, formerly known as Youth Radio, hosted the panel in conjunction with holding a voter registration drive targeted toward young people.
One reason why young voters don’t always feel connected to the political process is because California’s electorate is not as diverse as the state’s population, according to Eliana Jimenez Honeycutt, an organizer with the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
CALmatters reporter Ben Christopher said that if more young people voted it would have a direct impact.
“Even if we saw a modest increase you could really see some changes in who the electorate is and what kind of policies you get,” he said.
The political issues that matter most to young people are immigration and housing, according to a Power California poll. Those are topics that touch on “lived experience,” Calvin Williams from the Movement Strategy Center said.
Laneisha Butler, a community organizer with Oakland Rising, said many young people in Oakland are focused on leaving the area instead of on trying to change things. So Butler not only tries to get them registered to vote, but also connects them with volunteer and career opportunities.
“You need to really engage folks year-round, not just during elections,” she said.
The panel ended on a lighter note: a discussion over Proposition 7, which if passed would be a step toward eliminating daylight saving time. Williams summed up his perspective with a shrug.
“You can spring forward, you can fall back, I’ll be late either way,” he said to laughter.
Voter registration runs until Oct. 22 and vote-by-mail ballot requests must be made by Oct. 30, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. The election is Nov. 6.
(Top photo by Jeff Pierre on Unsplash)