“Jawn” can mean anything here in Philly. Just ask your young neighbors—it’s that jawn, or this jawn or the other jawn. But on Saturday, just blocks away from Independence Hall, dozens of youth from around the city gathered at “The Jawn” to rally about the most important jawn they need to talk about: voting.
At #VoteThatJawn at WHYY’s Public Commons, young leaders from all four corners of the city—student organizers from Temple and Penn, representatives from Girls Inc., and others—gathered to figure out ways to get their peers to the polls. Author Lorene Cary’s Safe Kids Stories, along with The Citizen and several other partners, kicked off a six-week sprint to register and get to the polls as many 18-year-olds as possible for the November election. Formed into teams, the students developed plans for spreading the word to their classmates and other young Philadelphians, with $1,000 prizes to the team that brings the most voters to the polls, the team that shows the most creativity, and “the team with the most grit.”
At round tables, the teams began brainstorming ideas from creating catchy slogans, organizing mock votes and carpooling to get as many of their peers registered and voting in November. One group plans to hold a rally with a panel of elected officials; another created a poster with the slogan “Don’t Ask Permission. Just Vote That Jawn;” one woman in the crowd suggested taking their grandmothers out for ice cream…and stopping at the polls on the way. Three young Philadelphians—Dré Reed, Rachel Headlam and José Rosero—created an animated video to show how-to-register, and rappers Ma’tthue Raheem and MG, created a VoteThatJawn song to energize the crowd.
Despite all of the energy, the movement has an uphill battle. The upcoming elections are preceded by a disturbing fact: the amount of youth voters in the city has been traditionally low. Roughly 33,000 18-to-34-year-olds voted in the 2015 mayoral election, which was only 10 percent of the overall turnout. That’s much lower than their share of the Philly population (between 25 and 30 percent).
There is a silver lining: The millennial vote this past May had the highest growth in turnout since 2013 suggesting that there is some momentum to bring the numbers where they need to be. And Pennsylvania is reported to have the highest number of new registrations among young people in the country.
The event included rousing talks from Mayor Jim Kenney; Lisa Deely, current Chair of the City Commissioners; David Brown, a writer and professor at Temple; and Lansie Silvia, the project director of Next Stop: Democracy!, an initiative funded by the Knight Foundation to make polling places more accessible.
The teams will present the results of their campaigns a few days after the November election. Let’s hope this Jawn proves what the kids in the room on Saturday seemed to show: Young people embracing democracy.Photo via James Meadows