Young peo­ple turned out to protest. Will they vote?

Ac­tivists hope to di­rect marchers to­ward the polls

Orlando Sentinel - - Nation & World - By Sara Bur­nett

CHICAGO — Young adults have filled streets across the coun­try on a scale not seen since the 1960s to protest for racial jus­tice af­ter the death of Ge­orge Floyd. But whether that en­ergy trans­lates to in­creased turnout in Novem­ber is an­other ques­tion.

They could make a dif­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial race — polls show Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is deeply un­pop­u­lar with young vot­ers — with con­trol of the Se­nate and hun­dreds of lo­cal races also at stake. But some ac­tivists are con­cerned that their fo­cus will be on spe­cific causes in­stead of vot­ing.

“In a nor­mal elec­tion year, turn­ing out the youth vote is chal­leng­ing,” said Carolyn De­Witt, pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Rock the Vote, which works to build po­lit­i­cal power among young peo­ple. “That’s even more true now. Peo­ple’s minds are not on it.”

Vot­ers un­der 30 have his­tor­i­cally turned out to vote at much lower rates than older vot­ers, though the 2018 midterm elec­tions saw the high­est turnout in a quar­ter-cen­tury among vot­ers ages 18 to 29 — a spike at­trib­uted in part to youth­led move­ments like March for Our Lives against gun vi­o­lence.

There are signs young peo­ple are get­ting more po­lit­i­cally en­gaged. De­Witt said more peo­ple reg­is­tered to vote through Rock the Vote’s on­line plat­forms last week — some 50,000 — than in any other week this year. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s so­cial me­dia ac­counts had as many im­pres­sions be­tween Mon­day and Fri­day of last week as it typ­i­cally has in an en­tire month, with more than 1 mil­lion.

“It will just be in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to us to make sure we’re protest­ing now and vot­ing later,” De­Witt said.

That is not as­sured.

The coro­n­avirus pan­demic has halted tra­di­tional cam­paign­ing as well as big con­certs and fes­ti­vals, the kinds of places where cam­paigns and groups like Rock the Vote and Head­Count typ­i­cally re­cruit young vot­ers.

On top of that, law­mak­ers’ ef­forts to change vot­ing laws in some states could re­strict younger vot­ers such as col­lege stu­dents.

Joe Bi­den’s Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial cam­paign is bank­ing on these vot­ers sup­port­ing him when the choice is a bi­nary one be­tween Bi­den and Trump. But that is not guar­an­teed.

“Our bar can’t be: Are you bet­ter than Trump?“said Cliff Al­bright, a co-founder of Black Vot­ers Mat­ter, which works to reg­is­ter vot­ers and or­ga­nize black com­mu­ni­ties. “For folks who are an­gry, who are in the streets, or who are at home and not en­gaged, you just telling me you’re bet­ter than this nut — that’s not enough.”

Many young peo­ple are still un­fa­mil­iar with Bi­den, “and they cer­tainly don’t know where he stands on is­sues,” said Heather Greven, spokesper­son for Nex­tGen Amer­ica. The group plans to spend at least $45 mil­lion to tar­get young vot­ers in bat­tle­ground states.

Bi­den said dur­ing a re­cent vir­tual fundraiser that he thought the protests will en­er­gize young peo­ple to turn out for him in Novem­ber.

“Now they are en­gaged,”

Bi­den said. “They feel it. They taste it. And they’re an­gry and they’re de­ter­mined.”

His cam­paign hasn’t made ma­jor changes to its youth out­reach amid the protests, which started af­ter a white Min­neapo­lis of­fi­cer pressed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a black man who was hand­cuffed and cry­ing out that he couldn’t breathe. In­stead, Bi­den has stuck largely with an ini­tia­tive known as “League 46” that com­bines groups such as Stu­dents for Bi­den and Young Pro­fes­sion­als for Bi­den.

In an ef­fort to ap­peal to younger, lib­eral vot­ers, Bi­den

has put pro­gres­sive Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on a cli­mate change task force.

But he doesn’t sup­port some of the pro­pos­als that en­er­gized sup­port­ers of his pri­mary ri­val Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., such as “Medi­care for All.”

Ja’Mal Green, 24, an ac­tivist in Chicago, said he and other young peo­ple were dis­ap­pointed by Bi­den’s re­jec­tion of a call to “de­fund the po­lice,” which has be­come a ral­ly­ing cry for pro­test­ers. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent said Mon­day that an over­haul of polic­ing is needed but can be done by putting con­di­tions on fed­eral funds.

That po­si­tion may re­as­sure older and mod­er­ate vot­ers who helped Bi­den win the nom­i­na­tion, Green said, but young peo­ple want to see more change.

“If not, they’ll just say ‘to hell with the elec­tion,’ ” he said.

Many of the young peo­ple tak­ing to the streets are fo­cused on pub­lic of­fi­cials with a more di­rect im­pact on their lives such as may­ors, po­lice chiefs and district at­tor­neys be­cause “they see that’s where the change is,” said Green, a Black Lives Mat­ter leader who joined pro­test­ers in Min­neapo­lis.

STEVEN SENNE/AP

Demon­stra­tors rally against po­lice bru­tal­ity Wed­nes­day in Bos­ton. Protests have oc­curred na­tion­wide since the death of Ge­orge Floyd on May 25 in Min­neapo­lis.

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