by Jessica Marshall
Report to the National Committee meeting of the Communist Party on November 20, 2004.
If you turned on the TV on November 3rd CNN mentioned to you that young people showed up at the polls but it was nothing too impressive. They told you that while the numbers went up, so did all voter-turnout numbers and there was no significant shift or big change in how many young folks showed up as compared to the rest of the population. Some of them even went so far as to blame the youth for not turning out enough to impact the elections favorably for Kerry.
But the numbers tell another story.
We know that youth were the only group that had a majority voting for the democratic ticket and against Bush. You also probably heard that 64% of the 13 million first-time voters overall were under 30.
If you were out in the field in the battleground states you saw young people working for ACT, Working America, League of Conservation Voters, and even in the Democratic Party operations.
For the first time in quite some time the category of "youth" was recognized and respected to some degree as a legitimate voting block to be addressed or looked at -- we weren't that apathetic generation too into video games or shopping at the mall to notice the elections. Young people were actually setting up their own youth-led and run election efforts.
We saw amazing work done by the hip hop community -- from mainstream groups with famous names like P.Diddy's "vote or die" efforts to the grassroots National Hip Hop Political Convention and its local organizing committees we saw a new level of organization and the development of political platforms to address the concerns and aspirations of the hip hop generation. Groups like the League of Pissed Off Voters did amazing voter education and mobilization, organizing youth voter blocs, creating their own youth voter guides and challenging young people to look beyond November 2nd and think about running youth candidates. In states with early voting, concerts were held featuring famous artists, rappers and singers to encourage young people to vote.
These efforts paid off.
The turnout rate for voters under 30 in battleground states improved from 45% to 64%. This is no coincidence!
We would be wrong if we didn't recognize that the projects of labor, the African American and Latino communities, women's organizations, and others had a significant impact on increasing the youth vote. But we also saw that where youth operations were set up, they saw significant increases in the voter turnout - voter turnout that benefited Kerry.
In Ohio, the Vote Mob's targeted precincts saw Democratic turnout increase by more than 80% over the 2000 election. In Columbus, they focused on precincts on the campus of Ohio State University, the largest university in the country, where Gore won by only 1,099 votes in 2000. This year, John Kerry won those same precincts by 3,154 votes marking an increase of 187%. In Minnesota they targeted five "swing" precincts with large youth populations -- 3 of which Bush won in 2000. This year, Kerry won all five with margins between 2% and > 14%.
The League of Pissed Off Voters reports that precincts they targeted on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh saw turnout increased by 50% or more. In fact some of them with a large population of voters aged 18-35 saw turnout as much as double.
It's important to note here that this is a generation of young people that have no particular allegiance to the Democratic Party and show hope for the possibility of further developing independent and progressive voter coalitions and voting blocks. But this generation of voters also was mature enough to recognize the importance of uniting in this year's election to elect John Kerry and defend themselves against a President and Congress that has been wreaking havoc on our lives for quite some time. This represents a tremendous opportunity for the YCL as we continue to grow and work to build broader, progressive coalitions of youth and students.
We found that we were very well received where we participated in these youth operations and we shared our strategic vision about the elections and building a broad, progressive youth and student movement. We were encouraged to discuss our views openly and our magazine Dynamic and other materials were very well received. While everyone didn't agree with everything we said, they appreciated our hard work and engaged in dialogue with us finding that more often than not we had similar visions about what it was going to take to win our country back from the ultra-right.
Of particular importance to the YCL in our efforts to deepen and broaden our relations with other progressive youth and student organizations, were our YCL Midwest Summer and GOTV election projects. In July, we went to St. Louis where 13 YCLers (5 of whom stayed for the whole month) volunteered alongside the party, Planned Parenthood, CBTU, SEIU and AFSCME, and others on several campaigns including the victorious campaign of John Bowman who is here today. In August we sent 8 YCLers to Cincinnati to work on a campaign to repeal anti-gay legislation in the city council, and participated in NAACP voter registration efforts and Working America canvasses. During that same period we sent 12 volunteers to Cleveland where volunteers worked with the Vote Mob and participated in labor walks.
Apparently we made quite an impression because when I went to the Vote Mob's office in Ohio to discuss the YCL participating in their GOTV efforts, the head of their operation smiled and told me, "ok, don't take this the wrong way but we're so glad you're coming back. People around the office keep saying, when are the commies coming back?!" Four of our national staffers headed out to Ohio where we volunteered with the Vote Mob at Cleveland State University and the University of Akron.
We worked on everything from phone banking to lit drops and led precincts in Akron for the VoteMob operation. On the 2nd as we waited for the returns to come in, several of the volunteers and leaders came over to thank the YCL for stepping up and helping play a positive role. One volunteer told Docia that he had always heard that the YCL was like the marines of the youth activist and organizing circuit and now he was convinced. While I'm not sure we like to be compared to the marines, we appreciated the sentiment.
I want to point out that it wasn't just through the YCL's Midwest project that the YCL was received in such a warm way. What was so amazing about all of this is that in every location YCLers were involved in these efforts we saw the same positive and inspiring experiences repeated. Both the Milwaukee and Chicago YCLers worked in Wisconsin, helping to chaperone a group of 400 high school students on election day who participated in a massive knock and drag effort to get people to the polls, in addition to their work with Vozes, an immigrants rights group, the League of Conservation Voters and ACT on door-knocking and GOTV efforts.
In New York YCLers were delegates and founders of the local organizing committees of the National Hip Hop Political Convention. In Providence, Miami and Chicago YCLers helped head up the League of Pissed Off Voters efforts. YCLers staffed Democratic Party operations and headed up precincts in Ohio and Florida. A YCLer from Virginia was a canvas director for a progressive young candidate in a tight race in Ohio. In Miami, the newly formed club helped ACT organizing efforts at Miami Dade Community College.
In Chicago YCL members were very active in the Youth for Obama efforts and one member worked with the United States Student Association and his student government to register over 1,000 new voters. New York YCLers worked on the election bid of Frank Barbaro in Brooklyn and to defeat Republican Olga Mendez in Upper Manhattan. In Buffalo, YCLers worked with Citizen Action and went to work in Ohio. In St. Louis and other places around the country YCLers worked with SEIU and other labor efforts.
The list goes on and on. Thousands of young people were registered, thousands of doors were knocked and collectively our membership learned what it takes to seriously get involved with electoral campaigns.
Again in every case where we put in the footwork, stepped up where we were needed and took on leadership roles when we were asked, we found that our relationships with broad, energetic and progressive organizations were strengthened. They saw we were a group doing real, serious work and we earned our political stripes by being out there and working side by side with other progressive and youth organizations.
We also saw that several clubs were reinvigorated and clubs that continued to meet and work during this period saw tremendous growth and strengthening in meeting attendance, popularity of educational activities and interest in their activities. This was especially true for those members and clubs engaged in the Midwest Summer project and many went on to dedicate serious time and energy on the election efforts.
And though I sound upbeat and we truly are happy about all that we accomplished and learned I have to say that it doesn't take the sting out of the defeat. This was a tough setback for everyone involved, but especially so for many who for the first time had fought on such a level. I would also say that for the thousands of youth who took off the summer, dedicated every weekend for six months or even just pitched in the last week before elections, they are a lot smarter and prepared for having gone through the experience and that isn't going away.
I have been doing some calling around, talking to other youth and student leaders to get their estimate of the elections, prospects for fighting back in the upcoming period and ideas about how we move forward. It is true that some are demoralized and down, but quite a few (and I bet this will increase) are ready to sit down and talk about what it's going to take to harness all of the energy and unity that we felt during this election battle to keep the fight going.
I think it is exactly in this area where the YCL has a key role to play among youth and students. People, especially young folks, resent being in reaction mode all the time and we know that because of the outcome of the elections we won't be the ones deciding policy priorities. But if we are going to capitalize on the tremendous energy, higher level of organization and unity that grew out of the defeat Bush movement, we are going to have to express and encourage some optimism about our ability to fight back. We have to make it clear that there is still merit in actively opposing the Bush administration. We aren't talking about organizing for show; we have to show that by organizing we actually stand to make a difference, slow down the Bush attack and whenever possible put them on the defensive.
This afternoon the YCL's National Council will be continuing these discussions, which means that you'll have a little more room in here this afternoon. We will be taking stock of what the election results mean for young people, for the YCL and for our the youth and student movement. We will talk about what we need to do to organize ourselves, follow up on the tremendous experiences of the election season and help build, broaden and deepen the unity of the youth and student movements.
In January of this year we were all gathered in this room with a similar crowd talking about how we were going to be part of the movement to defeat Bush on November 2nd. We set forth a pretty ambitious plan of work and talked about all of the creative ideas we wanted to pursue. We predicted this would be a tough battle and we said we were ready for it. In many ways we accomplished what we set out to do, we just fell a little short of that goal. We lost the bigger prize but we never lost sight of why we were involved in this in the first place which means that you can expect to see the same faces (and hopefully quite a few more) next time we meet.