One of the biggest stories of this election season is how politically engaged young people are all across the country.
Even youth who are not old enough to vote are paying attention, will certainly be impacted by the results, and want to get involved. But what can you do if you are too young to vote? Or how can you support your politically engaged kids or students who wish they could vote?
Good news. As important as voting is, do you know what makes an even bigger difference? Getting other people to vote and raising money for the campaign so that they can get even more people out to vote for your favorite candidate. And you can help, regardless of your age.
From big things like interning on a campaign to small things like talking to your family, here are 10 ideas to do just that. We are proud to include several that teens from YEA Camp, our summer camp for social change, have been doing around the country.
1. Educate yourself on the candidates and the issues.
A lot of the mainstream media discussion is more like describing a horse race — trying to predict who will win — versus a real discussion on what the candidates truly believe and what will be best for the voters. If you’re not already sure who you support, do your research. Go to the candidates’ web sites to research their platforms and listen to the debates.
What issues are important to you? Some of the topics candidates disagree on include what our taxes should pay for, the cost of education, the environment, minimum wage, racism – including police brutality and mass incarceration, and more.
Once you are well-informed and know who you support and why, you will boost your confidence and credibility. This will help make you a great advocate for the candidates and the issues that matter to you.
Note that while the presidential election and primaries are of course getting the most attention, there are Congressional and local races coming up in November that people will be voting on and that influence very real issues that affect all of us. Fewer people pay attention to these, so your efforts can make an even bigger impact.
2. Talk to the 18-and-over folks in your life (family members, friends, neighbors) about the election.
Tell them why you support the candidate you do. If they are not politically active, you could ask them to vote for a certain candidate on your behalf. Or, if they support a different candidate, you could change their mind by encouraging them to visit your candidate’s website and see them in person if they are speaking in your area.
Just your showing how important you see the election is likely to make them see it that way as well and to make time to vote. You can always offer them a deal, too, like you cook dinner that night so they have time to go vote! Key first is to make sure they are registered to vote.
3. Get your opinions out there for others to see. Beyond your close family members, you can influence hundreds or thousands of people by posting your opinions or persuasive articles you read on your social media. Even just posting a picture of yourself and your friends at a rally on your social media encourages those in your network to be aware of the election and to consider supporting your candidate. You could also write an article for your school newspaper or a blog, or make a video about why you support the candidate you do.
4. Phone-bank. This is one of the key things that all campaigns need help with: calling potential voters to identify supporters and encourage them to actually go vote. This GOTV (“get out the vote”) effort is critical to the success of any campaign.
Check out this inspiring story of an 11-year-old phone-banking! He actually uses his age to his advantage — who’s going to be rude to an 11-year-old?
You can do this at a phone-banking party (woohoo, good times! Make calls with other people who feel as strongly as you do), which you may be able to find out about on your candidate’s website, or you can even just make them from home on your own. This is huge, because you don’t need to get a ride anywhere or rely on someone else’s schedule.
Phone-banking is easy because you get a script of what to say, and you just follow that and be sure to mark the responses of the caller you speak to – if they are supporting your candidate, if they’ve already voted, or even if it’s a wrong number. That information is critical to the campaign being able to follow up and ensure their supporters vote on Election Day, which makes the difference in a close race.
5. Help get people registered to vote and help get them to the polls.
Just as important as persuading people to support one candidate or another is getting people to register to vote and making sure that they actually vote, either on Election Day or by mailing in an absentee ballot.
There are lots of ways to do this, from informally by talking to people in your community to volunteering at campaign events.
Most seniors at your high school will be old enough to vote in November’s election, if not the primaries, but many are not registered to vote and don’t know how to vote (where to go, what to do).
Sixteen-year-old Ana Little-Sana, former YEA Camper and the president of the California High School Democrats of America, held a successful voter registration drive at her high school in San Diego along with a photo booth where people could pose with signs to show their political passions. Over 10% of the student body registered to vote that day!
In fact, there are also efforts in different states to lower the voting age to 16 in California, and Bernie Sanders recently successfully sued in Ohio to enable 17-year-olds turning 18 by November to vote in the primary. If this is happening in your state, look at how you can support these efforts.
The more people vote and get engaged in the political process, the stronger democracy we have.
6. Ask your teachers to make class time for discussion about the candidates and what students can do. Some schools even have mock elections where students get to vote. Not only does this help students get thinking about this election cycle to potentially influence their families, it also starts them off young in getting politically engaged, which can lead to a lifetime of active participation.
7. Swag. Wear a t-shirt for your preferred candidate, put a bumper sticker on your notebook or the family car (they can take it off in November), and put a sign in your front yard or apartment window. When people see that others are supporting a certain candidate, it reminds them that an election is coming up and the importance of voting.
8. Intern or volunteer for a campaign.
If you’re really dedicated, this is an incredible way to devote yourself to getting a candidate elected. (It’s also great for your college applications.)
While the presidential election and primaries are of course getting the most attention, there are hundreds of Congressional and local races coming up in November. These pose a fantastic opportunity to learn about the political process and have an even bigger impact on a race.
Fifteen-year-old Jake Johnson (also a YEA Camper!) interned last year for a Congressional race in Arizona. “On the campaign I reached out to and helped register voters to get as much turnout as possible and educate voters on what they were voting for,” Jake explained. “Working on a campaign was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had and it taught me so much about what’s going on in the world, and what I can do to change the world.”
9. Fund-raise for the campaign. Whether it’s a bake sale, a car wash, a yard sale, a lemonade stand, or any other creative idea you have, you can donate the money you raise to the campaign. Even easier than that: sign up for the email list of your favorite candidate and forward campaign emails on to adults who might donate.
All fundraising is also awareness-raising, so be prepared to explain why you support the candidate or cause you do.
Ask for campaign birthday and holiday presents — no matter the time of year! Ask the people in your life who normally give you presents for your birthday or the holidays to donate that money to the candidate of your choice instead.
10. Use your personal skills and passions to help your candidate.
Maybe you’re great at graphic design or art and can create and share a fun image that will make people think. Maybe you love to make music and you want to write a song that will inspire people. Maybe you have a following on social media that you can influence, you can put your writing abilities to use in the school newspaper, or you can apply your cookie-making abilities at your bake sale. We can each contribute in our own ways.
There is so much that all of us can do to make a difference in the world, no matter what our age. Voting is absolutely important if you are old enough, but that is just one vote. Doing any of the actions above means impacting a lot more people, and those votes all add up. These races are close, and we all have an opportunity to make an impact. So get to it! And let us know how it goes.
And if you or someone you know is 12-17 and passionate about social justice and making a difference in the world, join us at YEA Camp this summer! YEA Camp is a summer camp for social change, where each camper chooses their issue of importance (IOI) that they want to focus on and develop the knowledge, skills, confidence, and community to take their passions to the next level in bringing about the change we so badly need. And you’ll make incredible friends and have so much fun. See the details at YEACamp.org.