Why The Youth Vote Matters: College Students Get Involved in Virginia

By Arianna Coghill

October 26, 2020

Next Gen America helps energize, provide support to local students.

RICHMOND- In 2017, Virginia saw a record breaking number of young voters take to the polls. And to make sure this momentum is continued this November, groups like Next Gen America travel to high schools and universities to help young people engage in politics.  Formed in 2013, Next Gen is a progressive advocacy group that helps to mobilize young people on important issues like immigration, climate change and healthcare.

 Twenty- three year old Kai’eshia Cole has been working with Next Gen since Jan. of this year. Originally from Norfolk, Cole attended Longwood University, graduating this year. Her school recommended that she join Next Gen because of her passion for politics. Since then, Cole has done it all. From petitioning to registering people to vote, she’s worked tremendously hard with her team to help keep Virginia’s college campuses informed.

Recently, Cole has been teaming up with historically Black universities across the state to help boost the political presence on their campuses.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to work with so many HBCUs in Virginia,” said Cole. “It’s really changed my perspective on the youth vote.”

While Cole has always cared about Black issues in politics, working at HBCUs really highlighted the differences between these schools and predominantly white institutions (PWIs). Having attended a PWI herself, this was a new environment for her.

“A lot of our issues don’t get highlighted at PWIs, the way that they do at HBCUs. Everything that you feel is being amplified,” said Cole. “I think that being able to take my perspective from a PWI and speak on it with students from an HBCU, we’re able to compare and have that needed dialogue. We need to understand that these issues effect all of us, not just at an HBCU or a PWI.”

Why the youth vote matters

A lot of people think that young people just don’t care about politics. However, there are so many young activists who’ve proven this stereotype false, especially after the death of George Floyd in March. Over the summer, many people took to the streets to demand justice for the hundreds of Black people that lost their lives through the years. Young Black people, like 17-year-old Travon Brown in Marion, even organized their own political protests. And, ultimately, their voice is just as important as anyone else’s.

READ MORE: Travon Brown Had a Cross Burned on His Lawn. But That’s Not Stopping Him.

“That’s what’s so monumental about the Black Lives Matter protests that happened this summer,” said Cole. “It was a breaking of a silence that we’ve had for a long time in America.”

Cole herself said that she’s seen many people, some as young 18, inspired to vote early. A lot of the politicized problems we see today affect young people. Even more so if they’re poor. Even more so if they’re a minority. Cole, herself, has battled many of these issues while she was growing up. It’s what fueled her passion to fight to this day.

“I grew up in a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood. A lot of my friends were immigrants. A lot my friends had a poor upbringing,” said Cole. “I felt like people in America didn’t have a full grasp on a lot of things we were experiencing. I felt like being an activist was the best way possible to speak out on this.”

According to Cole, arming yourself with knowledge is one of the best things you can do.

“This is something that takes a lot of bravery. You’re putting yourself on the frontlines for something that matters the most to you,” said Cole.

How social media helps young voters

When COVID-19 hit, several Virginia colleges had to close their doors in order to protect the students and staff. This caused Next Gen to change their method of activism to something more COVID-19 friendly. So, they took to social media. But, instead of setting them back, this virtual approach was actually very helpful.

While plenty of people took the streets this summer, many took their activism to their phones and their keyboards. Online activism has become an viable form of protesting ever since the advent of social media. Hashtags, social media challenges and infographics are very popular ways to express political ideas, especially amongst young people. #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo are two movements that started their roots online.

And with COVID-19 keeping everyone indoors, informing people through the Internet is great way to get your message heard.

“We typically use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Those are our main platforms,” said Cole. “We’ll send out links to events we have planned. We also give out informative sheets in regards to elections. Things like voting deadlines, how to register, polling locations. I think it’s really helpful, especially with so many people who’re voting in mass.”

Next Gen has also been harnessing the power of influencers and celebrities to get their message out. Celebrities like Justin Timberlake have pasted Next Gen America’s link into their instagram bios as a way of spreading awareness.

“We’re trying to find folks who people trust online that they’d trust to take advice from and team up with them,” said Dan Bristol, a spokesperson from Next Gen. “This way people learn how to vote through them.”

Next Gen is also offering a special LYFT code that will take people to polling locations who might not have any other form of transportation.

A call to ‘days of action’

From Oct. 30 to Nov. 3, Next Gen Virginia will be hosting their “days of action”- a phone bank that will be calling young people in Virginia to hopefully increase voter turnout. Right now, they have about 125 people helping them put together these events.

“Nov. 3 is going to be the most important day for us,” said Cole. “So we’re really hoping that we get a lot of people to turn up then.” Putting this together took months and many long nights to prepare. But to their team, it was all worth it.

“This is really the final crescendo of our campaign,” said Bristol. “This is the final push to mobilize voters, especially with the emphasis of early voters. The number of Virginians who’ve already cast their ballot is 40% of Virginians who voted in 2016. So with early voting our main push, we shifted what our typical get out the vote looked like so we could make sure people could their votes out early.”

While their target demographic is 18 to 35-year-olds, people of all ages are welcomed at Next Gen. If you want more information about Next Gen Virginia, follow their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Or feel free to check out their website here.

Arianna Coghill is a content producer at the Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

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