Vote That Jawn: Promoting youth civic engagement from top to bottom

Voter Nikesha Channel steps out of the booth with daughters Jazmeen Hughes, 6, center, and Jada Burgess, 5, back, after voting in Pennsylvania's primary election in 2012. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Voter Nikesha Channel steps out of the booth with daughters Jazmeen Hughes, 6, center, and Jada Burgess, 5, back, after voting in Pennsylvania's primary election in 2012. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Kate Lyn Broom, a Temple student originally from Virginia, has been politically active since middle school. The first campaign she helped was for Barack Obama in 2008 and her father has been taking her to the polls since she could walk.

When she came to college, her activism intensified. She’s had problems with her absentee ballots so, on Tuesday, she will drive the three hours back to her home state to cast her vote and then immediately turn around to be back in Philadelphia.

“Voting is important for young people because we’re voting for the world we want to inherit,” Broom said.

Yet, she’s an anomaly.

Many people in her age group, known as millennials, don’t go out in droves to vote. Only about half of that demographic said they went out to vote in the 2016 presidential election according to the Pew Research Center. It doesn’t help that the general public as a whole don’t vote as often in midterm elections, like the one on Tuesday, as they do in presidential elections, according to FairVote. The last midterm election in 2014 had the lowest voter turnout in 72 years.

Vote That Jawn, an initiative to get young people in Philadelphia to vote, wants to change that. The organization specifically wants to engage people who just became eligible to vote and first-time voters.

Loren Carey, the founder, said “it’s about getting people to vote, not vote one way or another.” She went on to explain that it’s important that young people are engaged early because “it’s about creating a secular ritual that will go into [their] adult civic life.”

The idea was inspired by her students at Safe Kids Stories, a community outlet for young people to share stories centering around non-violence. Earlier this year they wrote stories about March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration in support of tighter gun control. The class decided that the next logical step to have their voices heard was to participate in the upcoming midterm elections. Thus, Vote That Jawn was born.

According to Carey, this is why the entire initiative and its promotion are done all by young people, for young people in Philadelphia. There’s a rap named after the effort written by two young Philadelphia rappers, Matt’hue Raheem and MG.

Vote That Jawn also did an animation video made by Rachel Headlam, 19, with backgrounds by Jose Rosero, 17.

Even it’s media team is made up completely of college students, the targeted demographic. Carey uses PRowl, Temple University’s first and only student-run public relations firm.

“This is a peer to peer project with adults as support and sometimes to do guidance but the whole idea is for young people to talk to each other about their citizenship, their ownership of it, what they want,” Carey said. “It’s just different talking to people like you”

Emily McKain, PRowl’s director, said working on the project influenced some students within her firm to care more about voting.

“This is a learning experience so this was a real and relevant experience to have,” McKain said. “Vote That Jawn is all about youth engagement and bringing us in goes with their mission.”

There’s a competition aspect as well to get the most people to the polls. November 7, the day after Tuesday’s Election Day, Vote That Jawn will be in the Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall from 4-6 p.m. as they celebrate teams and announce winners in three categories: most voters to the polls, most creative campaign, and campaign with the greatest grit.

To take part, email votethatjawn@gmail.com with a team name and a category by Sunday at 11:59 p.m.

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