For many first-time voters, approaching politics can be intimidating. Here’s what I’ve learned about mobilizing them from following two first-timers on Election Day — and what I’ve gleaned from my own first forays into activism.
MICHIGAN — It’s going to take a youth movement to breathe new life into the White House this November.
On Election Day last Tuesday, Lansing sisters Shoshie and Jaquelin Fox-Long very kindly let me follow them to the polls as they cast their votes in a presidential primary for the first time.
Deeply concerned about the separation of families and the sick and dying children at the Mexican/American border, both Shoshie and Jackie voted for Bernie Sanders in hopes of seeing more empathy during his presidency.
They took time in the middle of the day to walk the five minutes from home to their polling location and were fairly stunned at how quick and easy it was to cast their ballots. The only voters in the building at that time, Shoshie and Jackie were in and out in under five minutes, “I Voted” stickers in hand.
Sanders didn’t end up winning Michigan, but the sisters felt the energy of taking part in our political process in a new way and are fired up to vote in the general election in November.
Seeing the proud selfies they posted from outside their precinct reminded me of my own first inspired involvement in politics a couple years prior during Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial election.
I didn’t get into Michigan politics through any normal kind of pipeline.
How did I get plugged into Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2018 campaign? Uh …
How I first became inspired by a candidate
In the summer of 2018, I met a young man through Tinder who was working on Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign. (Don’t worry, we went on a few dates before we started talking politics.) Up until this point, I had been pretty uninquisitive about politics on a national level, let alone state- and local-level politics.
But now I had someone to impress.
As I brushed up on Michigan politics, I had an opportunity in a college class to put together a multimedia project about an issue I had a personal interest in. My research had piqued an interest in the gubernatorial candidates’ stances on reproductive rights, so I chose to delve into that more deeply.
For my project, I created a zine I disseminated online about threats toward women’s ability to make choices about their own bodies in the context of the race for governor. And, man, I became invested.
My interest in the race moved beyond impressing my Tinder match (although we continued to date and will be celebrating our second anniversary this coming summer). I started to spread the word. I shared information from Planned Parenthood on my Facebook page.
I twisted my ankle in July 2018 and tore a ligament. Within a couple of months, I was knocking doors for Gretchen, albeit with a slight limp.
What happened to change me from a young woman uninterested in politics, not planning to vote, into a person in an ankle brace knockin’ on your door on a Sunday morning spitting facts about abortion access?
The topic of reproductive healthcare, which I highly valued, served as an entry point for me to see what was at stake in this election.
I saw a future where Michigan citizen’s rights were revoked. And that scared me, but it also energized me.
I cast my vote for Gretchen Whitmer absentee, but I walked away from my clerk’s office pleased as punch with myself. I put a lot of research, thought and work into that vote, and I had done what I could to make sure others were armed with the info they needed to vote well, too.
And here I am, two years later. Still energized. Still voting. And arming others with info on a whole new level.
Energizing first-time voters by giving them an in
For Shoshie and Jackie, it was watching Central Americans fleeing their homes on foot to be met with brutality at the American border. For me, it was the threat of backward policy taking effect and harming Michigan’s women in need of resources in family planning and access to quality healthcare.
For a lot of first-time voters, the whole political scene is intimidating. If you haven’t grown up in a family that talks politics at the dinner table, how do you begin to approach voting? Identifying that “in,” that issue that draws a first-time voter to get involved, is key to jumpstarting lifelong, meaningful engagement with politics.
Find out what the young people in your life care about. Talk to them about it. Make them see what the future could look like if they don’t do anything to shape it.
Connect with them about the Nov. 3, 2020 election and what’s at stake re: crippling college debt, clean water and air to leave our next generation, whatever they’re concerned about. Encourage them to find more in-depth information about particular issues from humanistic news sources like The ‘Gander.
From there, their empathetic investments may just take off as they become more immersed in human-focused stories.
But please, reassure them that they don’t have to knock doors on a broken ankle.