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    Posted August 20, 2009 by
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    Stories from Second Life

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    Inspiring Young Voters


    Michael Connery has a vision; a future where youth voters have a large impact on political issues and he believes we are close to making it a reality.  He is the author of “Youth to Power: How Today's Young Voters Are Building Tomorrow's Progressive Majority,” a book about the role of the Millennial Generation in progressive politics and blogs at “Future Majority” (http://futuremajority.com).


    Mike visited Second Life to share his thoughts. “I think a lot of the culture war stuff that previous generations have grown up with don’t make much sense to us. A lot of the pains of the past, it isn’t the same fight it was 10-20 years ago. We want to get past this stuff” said Mike during his interview with SL resident Jimbo Hoyer (Jay Ackroyd in real-life). The talk was sponsored by “Virtually Speaking,” which serves as a public affairs talk-show in the virtual world of Second Life.


    “Millennials are more pragmatic;  they’re very progressive and they want things to get done. They have certain goals they want to achieve.” Millennials are defined as people born between the years of 1980 and 1995. Already, the youth are making an impact. A story was shared about a fifteen year old who raised $100,000 for the Obama campaign. Also, more youth are running for office; a example is the twenty-eight year old mayor of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Luke Ravenstahl.


    Who is the better party to reach youth at this point? Mike wasn’t shy with his thoughts. “At this time, Democrats just happen to align more with that. If you’re a young Republican, there are plenty of groups who do this, such as NextGen GOP, but they’re lonely voices.” He believes that the Republicans have engaged in “retrenching” instead of “rethinking” how to lure the new generation. Specifically, he saw fiscal conservatism as an attractive platform which many could find appealing for the Republican Party to find the youth vote.


    However, he is not fully satisfied with the work of the Democrats. “I think we made a lot of progress in recent years, but I’m less happy with what I’m seeing recently. It isn’t really translating beyond the election. Youth involvement with Organizing for America is petering out compared to what we saw during the campaign.”


    Mike founded a group called Music for America, which focused on engaging youth at concerts about political issues. The group had some early challenges, “How do you coordinate and manage a large, scale field operation online? How do you get materials out to dozens of locations over night? We made a lot of rookie mistakes.”


    However, the group also found many successes.  “Doing these ad hoc canvasses at social places is a great way to get them registered to vote, get their email, and engage them to politics.” Based on research provided by Mike, most people form their political ideology while in their twenties within their first three to four elections. As a result, he asserts political parties can have much more success in the short and long term focusing on younger voters. “You see real success when politicians reach out to young people” added Mike.


    Many in political circles though still consider the youth vote to be a small influence. To change this, Mike felt that those with influence within the parties “Got to get past the old school mentality that young people don’t vote.”


    “I think we’re in a weird transition point right now; some people get it, some resist.” From a leader of trying to engage the youth vote, Mike asserted that the biggest barrier to young voters was the voter registration rather than apathy to political issues. He cited a statistic that once registered, 81% of young voters do vote at the polls. With health care reform on the horizon, he felt that not energizing the youth was a “missed opportunity” to mobilize young people. As one of the largest uninsured groups nationally, he believed tools like Facebook could have been used to educate individuals about health care in America.


    The best approach to reach youth is often a point of debate. However Mike sees the path forward as a simple one; using social communities that already exist. “Peer to peer activism, door to door, is the most effective way to reach other young people. We realized that if you can make a cultural connection you can bring in more people than you could otherwise.” He cited that having youth speak to other members of their generation at concerts, bars, coffee houses work to engage more people in the political process.


    “The impact of young people on policy has been more significant recently than in the past. I have seen more young people, including myself become more involved in policies that will affect our lives” shared Felix Stourmead, who attended the talk. “I think debate reform is something that can be done to make things better for young people. I don’t think anyone likes to hear the same old ways debates have been conducted. We want to hear why we should vote for a candidate, not why we shouldn’t vote for the other guy.”


    Looking forward twenty years of what will become of the political scene, Mike had some parting thoughts. “I am still an optimist, I’ve always been skeptical of Obama. But, I hope we get some real health care, real environmental legislation. As the culture warriors phase out, I think we’d see a decline in partisanship and a rise in civics.”


    “My personal hope is that young voters remain super progressive. We’ll see a much more progressive America.”

    Virtually Speaking in Second Life: http://virtuallyspeaking.ning.com/
    The Daily Planet SL: http://www.kryptonradio.com/

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