The reality is President Barack Obama "would not be President Barack Obama without young voters,” said author and political analyst Keli Goff at a Leading Women Defined panel discussion on the youth vote.
African-American women also were key to his victory, turning out in higher numbers than any other demographic. There’s little reason to believe that women of all races, and in many cases other ideological stripes, won’t support Obama in 2012 given their anger over efforts to relieve them of the power to make their own health-care choices. But young voters, who are more worried about finding jobs of their own than they are about saving Obama’s, may not realize that they too have something to lose, the panelists warned.
Angel Mills, a broadcast journalism major at Howard University, will be a first-time voter this year, but she’s been helping out around the polls long enough to notice that most of the people turning up on Election Day in her Detroit precinct were baby boomers, age 50 and older. This year, Angel said at the forum, she’s committed to getting her fellow Millennials to cast a vote for President Obama and their futures.
“Now that it’s my chance to participate in this election, I really want to encourage other people my age to come out and vote. I feel like I have a voice now,” she said.
Democrats are hoping that Mills will be part of a growing chorus, and according to Goff, while it’s unlikely that 2008’s record-high turnout levels will be replicated, if too few young voters head to the polls in November, particularly in battleground states like Ohio, the president could very well lose his re-election bid.
Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, National Youth Vote director for Obama for America, acknowledged that in addition to so-called voter suppression laws popping up in states across the nation, the campaign’s biggest opponent this fall may be apathy. To counter the problem, she added, her team will have to duplicate the significant investment in young voters they made in 2008 and ensure that they’re aware of what’s at stake in 2012.
“I think this president has shown us that he’s committed to the young folks. He’s increased the amount of money available for Pell grants and decreased the interest rates for people paying back those grants. Many college students can stay on their parents’ medical plans until they’re 26,” said Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell. “That’s a huge thing. I feel like this is this generation’s moment and we have to make them feel as part of it as they felt in 2008.”
Sewell added that celebrities and organizations like Rock the Vote are powerful resources that should be used to mobilize those voters. But as one participant noted, whenever possible, civic engagement should begin at home.
“If we’re not talking to mothers, fathers, church leaders, mentors about the importance of this, we really aren’t going to have this next generation prepared to lead [and] serve,” she said.
You can find more on the Leading Women Defined summit at: www.BET.com/lwd.
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