5 things youth can do this election season to make their voice heard

From digital media and social networks to door-knocking and phone-banking, there are many ways for non-voting eligible youth to participate in this year’s election process.

While many youth will not be eligible to vote in the 2016 general election this November, there are still many ways non-voting youth can participate in the election season as engaged citizens. Many youth, while not yet eligible to vote, are interested and engaged in advocating for their perspective in matters of public decision-making and politics. Young people have opportunities to engage in politics through “traditional” political activities, as well as through “participatory politics,” which are “interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern,” as defined by Joseph Kahne, Erica Hodgin and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, all of whom are studying the ways “the digital revolution has enabled important changes in political life.”

Here’s a round-up of five different ways young people can make their voices heard this election season.

1. Write a letter to the next president

Writing letters to presidents has a long history in the United States as a way for people of all ages to communicate their perspectives, wishes and requests to those in positions of great power. The tradition continues today, as citizens send correspondences to President Obama, who reportedly reads 10 letters every day sent to him by Americans. President Obama even responds to some of the letters he receives, like the response he sent to Mari Copeny, an 8-year-old from Flint, Michigan, who wrote to President Obama about the Flint water crisis.

With a Presidential election coming up this November, youth have the opportunity to tell the next president what issues matter to them and what they would like him or her to do about it if they become the next president. Letters to the Next President 2.0 is an initiative that “empowers young people (13-18) to voice their opinions and ideas on the issues that matter to them in the coming election.” The initiative’s website includes resources for teachers and mentors who would like to engage young people in letter writing, and will be “a massive, open, online publishing platform” where young people can share their letters and perspectives with others.

2. Turn your letter to the next president into a video and share it online

With the access to digital media tools (a cell phone and an internet connection), it’s never been easier to record and share videos. After writing a letter to the next president, why not make a video based on the letter to share some ideas with the next president and others? The PBS News Hour Student Reporting Labs website has some simple step-by-step instructions to help youth plan, make and publish a video-based letter to the next president. Videos with the hashtag #2NextPrez can be shared via social media and on video sharing websites such as YouTube and Vimeo.

3. Make an infographic based on an election topic young people care about

Creating an infographic based on an election topic a young person finds interesting is a great way for them to learn more about the subject and to share facts and their perspective with others. “Infographics use visuals to make statistics or processes easier to understand,” according to KQED Education, which is an excellent resource young people can use to choose an election topic, research the topic, choose an infographic design strategy and share completed infographics with others.

4. Make a political meme

Memes, the widely shared and popular combination of images and text, can be a creative way for youth to express their political views online. KQED Education provides an overview of Memes and offers some tips on making funny memes about important issues.

5. Volunteer

For young people looking for a more hands-on, in-depth experience with the political process, volunteering for a candidate or political party can be a great way to learn about the political process and to help support candidates who they believe will be the best in office. A tip sheet from Youth Service America highlights some of the different activities youth can do when they volunteer with a campaign or political party, such as phone calling, door knocking and working at political events. Youth can find volunteer opportunities by going to the websites for national political parties such as the Democratic National Committee, Republican National Committee, Green Party or Libertarian Party.

In addition to these activities, young people could also choose to engage in many other ways with the 2016 election season. Youth Service America offers information on other ways for young people to get involved, such as helping to register voters, holding mock elections and developing voter guides on their website ServiceVote 2016. With so many ways young people can choose to engage in the political election process, there is sure to be an experience that will match the interests and skills of nearly every person. Even though they may not be able to cast a vote this year, young people have the ability to make their voice and perspective heard by those who can.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

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