What do Michelle Obama, Snapchat and Taylor Swift have in common? They are all spending the final weeks leading up to the hotly contested 2018 midterm elections urging people to vote. They’ve taken to stadium stages and digital screens across America to encourage one very specific group of people to get out and make their voices heard: millennials.
I remember feeling so encouraged by living on a college campus during the 2016 election. Campaign posters hung on doors in the dorms and in windows in the quad. Students were handing out campaign literature and knocking on doors. I was optimistic going into election night that the youth vote would help carry Hillary Clinton across the finish line. Things obviously didn’t go quite as I anticipated.
I was absolutely shocked that night. I had compartmentalized the idea of a Trump presidency into the deepest corner of my mind. But what shook me to my core was that after networks projected a Trump victory, friends of mine watching with me said they were suddenly regretting not voting.
It was unsettling to know that people I knew, people that cared enough to stay up past midnight to see the final results, hadn’t even taken the time to vote. It confused me and made me angry. It didn’t make sense to me that someone would not make time to vote, didn’t care to vote or would hold out their vote in protest.
In 2016 only about half of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 voted. That’s compared to almost 70% of eligible voters between the ages 52 and 70 voting. Midterm election numbers are even more unnerving. In 2014, only 25% of eligible millennial voters participated. This is certainly not a good look for young voters.
However, it’s important to understand that mediocre turnout numbers can’t be blamed solely on a lack of trying. Young voters are considered to be among the main victims of voter suppression. We face an uphill battle from getting registered to vote to actually casting our ballot.
There are countless hurdles that young voters have faced in trying to vote. Some election officials have falsely claimed that out-of-state college students can’t register to vote at their school. The voter registration timeline being different in every state has been cited as a cause of confusion for voters. The lack of early voting in many states also poses an inconvenience to students and workers.
Those hurdles have led many voter registration organizations to put an unprecedented amount of energy and resources toward mobilizing young people. They hope that arming young people with more information earlier on will help them overcome the obstacles we face. These efforts have been backed by a growing number of famous names.
Beyonce and Jay-Z registered voters at all the stops on their On The Run II Tour. Twitter and Snapchat offered users the ability to register to vote through their apps. Even Taylor Swift broke her political silence by endorsing Phil Bredesen in the Tennessee Senate race against a Trump-backed candidate. After Swift encouraged her young fans to get involved, voter registration surged by 65,000 people.
Michelle Obama has also been making the case to vote to young people around the country with the organization she co-chairs, When We All Vote. She often shares an anecdote about her daughters and the importance of voting. She reminds them that they wouldn’t let their grandparents choose the songs they put on a playlist, so why should they let them choose who represents them in congress?
I have to admit, she has a point. I love my sweet Sunday school teaching grandmother, but I definitely don’t need three choral arrangements of “Amazing Grace” in my playlist.
The closer we get to November, the more hopeful I feel. I see young people going out to protests and knocking on doors for candidates and issues. Maybe I’m setting myself up for the same disappointment I felt in 2016, but I’m an eternal optimist. I think that current events and outreach have millennials energized and hungry for change like never before.
So I urge all of my fellow millennials to make a plan to vote on November 6. Anger and complaining on social media will not cut it anymore. We owe it to each other and our country to take action. We have the ability to change the country. All we have to do is show up.