In the Field
Giving Young Voters a Platform Nationwide
October 20, 2020
If you are a young person, you deserve a platform. And, if you identify as a woman, gender non-conforming, non-binary, or femme, you deserve a platform.
Founded in 2015, Platform, empowers these voices to dream of change and challenge the status quo. When marginalized communities come together, lawmakers and political officials listen, and ideas become reality.
Christi Owiye and Jennifer Mandelblatt, along with the rest of the team at Platform, know this. So, they built a community where young people have agency in shaping their future.
Platform hosts state summits and annual convenings that bring together young women-identifying and genderqueer individuals to take an active role in politics. Participants engage through policy briefings, immersive workshops, and active lobbying with elected officials.
Platform briefs their constituents monthly on policy that affects their community’s personhood. By producing policy packs, folx get a clear rundown of the issues-at-hand with stats, stories, and action items needed to usher in change.
Recently, we caught up with Christi and Jennifer to talk about their nationwide listening tour and the mobilization of young women-identifying, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and femme folx across the country.
Christi Owiye: My name is Christi Owiye. I use she/her/hers pronouns. I am the External Affairs Manager for Platform.
Jennifer Mandelblatt: I’m Jennifer Mandelblatt. I’m one of the co-founders and the Executive Director of Platform. We are a political training and lobbying organization for young women-identifying, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and femme folx. And, we work to ensure our communities’ voices impact the legislative decisions that affect their lives.
Active Listening Across the Country
What motivated you to conduct a nationwide listening tour?
Jennifer Mandelblatt: We are gearing up for the election of our lifetime. We know in every election cycle, every political pundit analyzes, predicts, and shames young voter turnout, without understanding why and asking those questions. So, we want to launch this listening tour to talk to young people across the country, to understand how they are thinking and feeling as we head into November.
What are their whys?
- Why are they voting, or why might they not vote?
- Are they feeling energized?
- Will they help get out the vote?
- What are their concerns or frustrations?
- How do we build a stronger democracy, and how do we build a system that is worth engaging in?
Because, we know we’re not just fighting towards November 3rd, we’re fighting for a democracy 365 days a year that actually serves young people.
Young People Engaged
What was the most surprising finding you came upon when doing this research?
Christi Owiye: One thing that we were surprised about was just how many young people don’t feel like they really fit into either party. Obviously, they feel so strongly that by no means are they Republicans. But, they don’t feel like the Democratic party quite represents them or their interests.
They don’t feel like there’s even a good understanding of what life is like as a young person facing issues like climate change and student loan debt. As a result, many identify themselves as left-leaning, but don’t necessarily identify themselves as members of either party.
Jennifer Mandelblatt: One of the things that I’ve found surprising was they craved to learn more about their local elections. There are incredible organizations out there such as Run For Something that are showing people that we need to engage and build power locally.
When we are talking to young folx, they express just what Christi was talking about. They feel left behind by the larger party and larger federal candidates. But, at the local level, they see themselves represented. At the local level, they see the change and progress that could happen, and how they could affect that change.
But, there aren’t enough resources right now. You don’t even teach young people how to vote, much less what the role of our elected officials at the local level are. So, how do we fill in that gap? That’s the big question that we’re looking towards. And there are groups, like Young People For, that help map out how young people fit into this conversation.
- But, how do local officials fit into our lives?
- How are we directing the narrative to say, local power is essential?
Local political engagement is critical, and so is filling in that gap to make sure that engagement is accessible.
What You Can Do For Young Voters
Many of our trainees are those candidates, campaign staff, and local leaders working at the local level. What are the top three things they can do between now and the election to engage young people as volunteers and voters?
Christi Owiye: I think that one of the biggest things that can be done, is to meet young people where they’re at. Obviously, not physically because we’re social distancing right now. But, you definitely want to understand where they’re coming from, and find those touchpoints where things make sense, and build community from there.
Use that community building as an opportunity to build collective power.
Welcome All Voters
Jennifer Mandelblatt: I would say two things. First, make it clear that it’s okay that you don’t have all the answers. It’s okay if you’re not yet registered to vote. There is this assumption that because of the incredible youth movement that has been growing in recent years, there’s this expectation that you know how to get involved. There is this expectation that you are already registered to vote. And, there is this accompanying fear that if you admit that you’re not, you’re going to be cast aside. So, how do we, and how can campaigns make that very clear?
One of our suggestions is to talk about that process. Highlight and celebrate stories about people who are first-time registrants. Don’t say, “You’re late to the party.” Honor the fact that they are here and ready to show up and do the work now in this campaign.
Guide Voter Passions
The other piece is, when we talk about political engagement, we have very narrow lines of how we talk about it. You have to be engaged in The Young Dems and the College Democrats of America. You have to be phone banking and canvassing to be politically engaged.
But, there are also incredible leaders in the local climate justice groups, who are organizing strikes and rallies. There are incredible young leaders in gender justice and reproductive rights groups fighting for access to sexual healthcare and equality. There are incredible young leaders in the Black Students United on campus who are mobilizing for more racial justice and anti-racist curriculums in higher education.
These are all young people who are invested in the well being of their community and fighting for a future that counts them. So, we have to honor that political power and bring them into our circle to say, “The work you’re doing is political. We honor it and want you to be a part of our team as well.”
The Issues At-Large
Are there issues you found that young people rally around more actively?
Christi Owiye: Absolutely! Jen touched on those points: racial justice, reproductive justice, climate change. There are so many more, but those are sort of the top three issues that young people care about, as well as the student loan crisis.
Young people do want to be educated. Young people do want to be able to go to college and expand their knowledge base, but they’re nervous. There are so many opportunities for us to find these young leaders. They’re here and they’re energized.
Jennifer Mandelblatt: Groups like Future Coalition have mobilized climate justice and climate change voters, especially young voters. They’ve been taking to the streets and building so much power. So, how can candidates work with groups like this at the national level, and the young people they have mobilized. Translating them into voters is key—connecting on the issues and bringing them in as voters.
Student loan debt is also very critical because it is a barrier to entry to the civic engagement process. Some of the things our young folks on this listening tour talked about is that they want to be politically engaged. They want to help canvass. They want to go to club meetings. But, they’re also full-time students who are working two part-time jobs, if only two. They’re taking care of their families, and showing up for their friends and community.
Being politically engaged, while important and essential for us all to do, is in many ways a privilege. And, so when we tackle the issues of access, we’re liberating students from the struggles of student loan debt. We do this, so you can be part of the conversations that impact you.
It’s More Than Politics. It’s Life.
Do you think this election is helping them engage more, or are they getting turned off from feeling overwhelmed?
Christi Owiye: It’s a combination of people saying, “Yeah, I’m fired up. I wanna be involved, and do things.” And other folks saying, “Woah, too much. I’m stepping back and stepping away.”
Jennifer Mandelblatt: So much of what Platform talks about now is how we are fighting back against the pain of what has transpired over the last four years. But, not necessarily how we are investing in building forward.
We have to make sure we know our young people, who might not otherwise be engaged in this election cycle, will show up at the polls because they know how much is at stake.
Understand that whatever happens on November 3rd, we have to earn their engagement every single day afterward.
Let’s not take this fired up passion, need to fight back, and need to fight forward for granted. We have to make sure when they show up for us, we show up for them.
People are tired of watching this game of politics play out when their lives and their rights are on the line. Because this isn’t politics to them. This is their life. I don’t think the partisanship is keeping people home necessarily on election day, at least for the folks we talk to. But, it’s taking away from their respect and desire to show up in the two-party system.
Young Voters Have Power
That is such a good point. Our work is not done on November 3rd. It’s just starting. Is there any last thing you want to make sure our trainees, candidates, local leaders and campaign staff are left with, especially as they’re going into this last phase?
Christi Owiye: Young people have power. Young people are aware of that power. They want to harness it for candidates, movements, and work that feels appropriate and represents their needs.
When young people show up to the poles, they are not coming as individuals. They are voting with their families, education, and futures in mind.
A lot of people are expressing, “I was born here and I’m documented, but someone close to me isn’t documented. So when I show up to vote, I’m voting for communities that matter to me.”
Engaging Young and First-Time Voters
We give a heartfelt thank you to Platform. Their work is detrimental in ensuring our democracies are upheld and inclusion is valued in the political process. Want to dive deeper? If you’re as pumped as we are, feel free to check out our other blog post on Communicating with Young and First Time Voters.
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