5 Ways to Make a Difference in the 2012 Election

PolicyMic reported from Campus Progress' National Conference in Washington, D.C. on Day 2 of the 2011 conference for young progressives.

You would think President Barack Obama would be the focal point of a liberal progressive conference during a presidential re-election season. I certainly did — and so I was surprised when a panelist at the 2011 Campus Progress National Conference claimed our focus shouldn’t be on “some cool guy.”

Alicia Menendez of the think-tank New Policy Institute said it is time for our generation to demand progress on issues that affect us for the rest of our lives. “Across the world our peers are shaking up their government,” Menendez said. “They are changing things; they are calling for democracy. And it has to be our responsibility to do exactly that, but here: Hold the American government accountable.”

But with young voters frustrated by the lack of the change (change that buzzed with hope in 2008), getting people to vote at all may prove difficult.

It’s not necessarily that young people don’t care or are lazy. A lot of the political apathy pervading this generation is due to institutional barriers that prevent our youth from influencing politicians. It’s not the youth’s fault we have thin wallets. Many of the speakers at the conference laid out methods for getting out the vote on an individual level. Start small and use these tips to convince friends to become more involved, and remind politicians they cannot ignore the under-35 crowd.

Make it local: It’s hard to muster up enthusiasm among youths when Congress focuses on issues like health care and Social Security, which may feel distant to young people. Instead, make issues local and encourage friends to vote in city elections; talk about a restaurant that was forced to close or schools losing funding. The direct result of your actions is easier to see within a smaller scope.

Make it personal: Know anyone who simply doesn’t care about issues? Share personal stories or find them. Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist who recently came out as an undocumented immigrant, said he tries to “write about something specific enough it becomes universal.” By sharing his personal story, people can connect a face to an issue like the DREAM act instead of relying on hard numbers.

Network: Our generation knows how to use Twitter and Facebook — so take advantage of these websites. Like former President Bill Clinton said on Wednesday, people in the know have a duty to inform others. People are generally uninformed about the voter registration process, and few states allow election day registration, so get people to register early.

Say thank you: Don’t forget about politicians after they are elected and do something right. Whether they voted for gay marriage or against plans to cut state education funding, thank them after and remind them of your support.

Know someone cool? Ask them to run: Probably the best moment of the second day was when one girl was asked by a panelist to run for office. Don't let money or age be a barrier. Use grassroots campaigning techniques to elevate people who care to local office.

The Campus Progress conference put into perspective the overwhelming challenges facing the future of the U.S. Individual voter power has shrunk due to institutional barriers like voter disenfranchisement and big business interests. However, the conference buzzed more with hope of change, reminiscent of 2008, than rhetoric of fear. The gathering attempted to energize the over-1,000 young liberals in attendance to do their part and mobilize peers, but gaining political power first requires informing yourself. Only then can you use that information to empower your peers.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Leber