MADISON, Wis. — As Americans cast votes for this year's Presidential election, Urban Leagues in Wisconsin sought to give people who can't vote yet a chance to weigh in on issues important to them.
The Urban Leagues of Milwaukee, Greater Madison, and Racine and Kenosha put together a digital campaign called 'Vote For Me' where Wisconsinites under 18 encouraged adults in their lives to vote.
“We thought that if we could have these young people express why it's important to vote for their future, but also have them encourage three adults that they know to come out and vote, then that would be effective,” said Ruben Anthony, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison.
The message has been shared more than 69 thousand times. Kids talked about issues like climate change, race, and acceptance.
“They really expressed that it's important who the leaders are and that people get out and really think about their futures as we think about voting,” Anthony said.
Polling from the Center For Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement data shows people under 30 think that climate change, racism, and healthcare access as the top issues the country is facing in the 2020 election.
A Vice/IPSOS poll showed people under 30 saw the pandemic, racism, unemployment, and climate change to be among the top issues facing the country right now.
“Climate change is really the top,” said Constance Flanagan, a professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin- Madison school of Human Ecology. “You know young people are going to have to live with the implications of climate change for more years of their adult life so I think that's going to stick to be a big issue for the youth vote.”
Flanagan specializes on youth civic engagement. She says this generation has been active for the past few years, organizing protests such as “March for Our Lives” or “The Climate Strike.” Flanagan said youth now are more civically engaged than at most times during the past.
“In terms of the implications of decisions made now, again they are the ones that are going to have to live with those decisions for a lot more years,” Flanagan said.
A Harvard Poll suggested that youth turnout could hit record levels in 2020. Generation Z is getting ready to vote in Wisconsin too. However, Flanagan said projects like the Urban League's offer important context to what is already important to our youth.
“I think hearing from 10 year olds whether they're your own or not can really motivate people to think, 'Am I being the kind of moral person I think I ought to be?'” Flanagan said.
She also said some of the issues facing the country in the long-term make for a sense of urgency among young people — whether they can vote in this election or not.
“You hear young people talking about they don't even know if they can make decisions 10 years from now,” Flanagan said. “You know that's a pretty big statement to be thinking about your future with such a fore-shortened horizon.”
That urgency could be on display in how often the 'Vote For Me' message was shared. Anthony said a lot of the kids talked about the long-term concerns they have.
“Kids were concerned about their safety, in terms of safety of the environment,” Anthony said. “Will we have clean air when they're grown up?”
Anthony said the youths the Urban League has featured and seen continue the conversation online have demonstrated an understanding about the real life impacts voting can have on their lives. He just hopes the adults in those kids lives have that understanding as well.
“It's important not just for you to vote for yourself, you know not for selfish reasons, but to vote for the future of the next generation of our children,” Anthony said. “Our children are depending on you to get out and vote.”