Volunteers are needed to make it work
Barack Obama’s presidency is, if nothing else, proof positive the Black vote is a powerful force, capable, in fact, of making history. Accordingly, that proof is evidence enlightening today’s youth, tomorrow’s voters, encouraging them to learn the electoral process is an idea whose time inarguably has come.
Considering the limits of passionate, deeply committed protest in realizing social change, working within the system increasingly is an imperative. Toward this end, consider the initiative Kids Voting Minneapolis (www.kidsvotingminneapolis.org) a community-based nonprofit designed to engage youth, grades K-12, in that critical aspect of life decision-making.
Coordinating with Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis City Elections Department, Kids Voting Minneapolis, part of the national network Kids Voting USA, states as its mission “to foster an educated and engaged electorate by partnering with schools and families to enrich the civic education of…students and to prepare them to be informed voters. [It] provides civics-based classroom lessons and activities at no cost to all interested schools.”
Far from leaving it an academic issue, KVM places personnel on-site at Minneapolis precinct polling locations to give direct, hands-on help for youngsters. Results to date are impressive. The website documents, among other statistics, a few key facts: The program is effective for students from low-income households, counter to the misconception that voting is a class-based privilege instead of a basic right for all. There is a strong correlation between student participation and 18-year-old, first-time voters exercising said right.
Even adult voting is impacted as communities with Kid Voting programs see as much as a three to five percent increase in adult turnout. It also attests, “Volunteering on Election Day for Kids Voting Minneapolis does three important things:
1) Shows your parents that they need to go to the polls, too.
2) Shows younger people how important it is for them to vote.
3) Shows the entire community what they might expect from your generation when you turn 18 and are of legal voting age.”
KVM volunteer coordinator Jennifer Nilsen notes, “Kids Voting has been growing since [its inception in] 2004. “In the 2008 Presidential Election we had about 7,600 students vote.” That significant number increased still further the next time around. “In 2012 we had over 14,000 Minneapolis kids take part. We were able to have students in the schools that were polling places vote during the school day.
“Many of those schools are located in communities with large enrollments of students of color,” continues Nilsen. “We always try to increase the number of students of color who vote by recruiting as many volunteers as possible from community groups traditionally under-represented in voting and by doing outreach to those community groups. Kids Voting Minneapolis tries to take the mystery out of voting in the hopes that students become future voters.”
Indeed, the student ballot contains many of the same candidates and issues as the adult ballot. Nilsen also encourages parents and guardians, when they vote November 8, to bring their children along to learn by example.
“The importance of democracy, taking part in the political process, we want to give them the authentic voting experience, a true understanding of it,” says Nilsen. “They can fill out their own [mock] ballots, choose who they want to vote for.”
“Kids Voting Minneapolis needs 400 community volunteers who staff the 130 city precinct polling places to assist students as they vote,” continues Nilsen. “We will be at all the polls on Election Day and are in need of volunteers for Nov. 8. This is a wonderful, one-time volunteer opportunity plus a one-hour training session. The Election Day shifts are three hours — 2-5 pm or 5-8 pm.”
Integral to this important effort is community participation, volunteers stepping up to pitch in and help out. After all, it is one thing that this fundamental, nuts-and-bolts — not to mention highly effective — project is offered to increase voter turnout. It is crucial, though, that communities carry their share of the weight to empower youngsters to empower themselves.
Volunteers can register at www.kidsvotingminneapolis.org.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.