Bravi, everyone, bravi. And thank you, to the young people who registered to vote, cast their first ballots on November 6th, and helped to make this past election the best one in decades for first-time voters in Philadelphia.
When we launched Vote That Jawn in September, we issued the challenge to come up with the best ideas to get as many young Americans to register and then vote in the 2018 mid-term elections. Our hope, in accordance with the mission of our umbrella organization SafeKidsStories.com, was to amplify youth voice in this process.
We wanted to offer educational and informative youth-oriented and youth-created material that young people registering other young people could read, listen to, and share. We hoped to add support that would connect through the Philadelphia youth-vote cohort—as indeed their voting connects them—even though they are usually separated by schools, economic circumstance, ethnicity, voting programs and states, or even countries, of origin. We wanted to reward teams who had registered the largest number of new voters; who had been most creative in their strategies; and who had shown the most “grit” in finding and convincing people to register and vote.
On Wednesday, November 7th, the day after the election, we gathered in the Mayor’s Reception Room on the second floor in City Hall with the amazing Clef Club Junior Jazz ensemble to celebrate—and to hear moving stories of teams that had participated. Our three judges were David Brown, co-director of the Jawn and assistant Professor at Temple’s Klein College of Media and Communication; Peter Conn, Director of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia and professor emeritus at Penn; and Michelle Saahene, the Starbucks activist and life coach. They listened to reports from a few teams and from our student writers who had gone out the week before to talk to groups and bring back news of their efforts.
Here are the results:
Most Voters to the Polls:
Seemed simple when we conceived of it last summer, but with such diversity of teams, and such wildly varying numbers of young members of diverse communities, the judges decided to award the prize to a team that had registered 100% of the 18-year-olds in its building: Mastery Lenfest High School, whose voting project has been led by teacher Joseph Bradley. Read about his work here. As one judge said, “One hundred percent is the gold standard.”
Most Creative Campaign:
Lots of groups have great ideas, some long-standing and carried out by professional administrators. Temple College Democrats used all their connections to reach, well, everyone they could reach. They recruited new voters on campus, threw a political shindig, used local subway stops to talk to their non-college neighbors, and used volunteer assignments, one at Planned Parenthood, as a chance to talk to young, unregistered voters. What’s so creative about this? They moved through their slice of America, unafraid to talk to people with different resumes. In a segmented country, that’s social creativity.
Most Grit in a Campaign:
Turns out that one team went about registering voters even though none of them is yet old enough to vote. Art Sanctuary’s interns, one 17-, two 15-, and one 12-years-old, invited Jawn animation artist José Rosero to help them merge the Jawn and Art Sanc logos for T-shirts they offered to new voters. They sent a call out on the organization’s newsletters, went door-to-door, out on the street. They also worked over family members and neighbors. Four underage Americans registered six people—and also did fierce studying themselves, for talking points and to get themselves ready when it’s their turn. What if every team lifted one-and-a-half times their weight?
Each team wins $1,000: That’s not for the votes, but for their work and creativity and grit. Well done!
So many Philadelphians did great work, in schools and out; in groups and individually. Rock the Vote is still rocking it. Girls, Inc., created a fantastic panel discussion–and it happens every year, so that their girls grow up knowing the ongoing urgency of voting participation. Rising Sons took little boys to register big ones. And the Caucus of Working Educators, under the indefatigable Central High School teacher Tom Quinn, ran the fabulous campaign Philly Youth Vote. We hear that Central registered 93 percent of it’s 18-year-olds, and Bodine High School a few percentage points more. Wow, wow, wow.
They’ve all had everything to do with registering 6,782 18-year-olds between the Primary and the General Election this year.
Thinking about races around the country separated by even fewer votes than these makes me think of the power of these nearly 7,000 new voters, many of them now passionately committed to the franchise.
Thanks to each of you and your young people. Bravi, Everyone!
Lorene Cary, founder of SafeKidsStories.com, is a lecturer at Penn and author, most recently, of If Sons, Then Heirs. This is one in a series of articles that will run on The Citizen and SafeKidsStories.