Campaign launches youth voting initiative

ServiceVote2000, a national campaign encouraging civic engagement of American youth, is gearing up for the election season.

We want students to get engaged in the full cycle, said Matt Leber, campaign manager for SV2K.

The group aims to get young people between age 18 and 24 involved in politics and community service, Leber said.

Leading up to the election, SV2K will achieve its goal in three phases: recruitment, civic education and voting.

Leber said political involvement is an important complement to community service projects like Habitat for Humanity.

(Building a home) is not ridding our society of homelessness, Leber said. That’s why you have to address issues of legislation as well.

But some statistics indicate students are more interested in community service than political action.

Volunteerism has risen over the last 10 years – 74 percent of college freshmen volunteered during their last year of high school in 1998, compared to 62 percent in 1989, according to a freshmen attitude survey compiled by University of California-Los Angeles and Higher Education. But, voting rates for members of the same age group have dropped dramatically.

(Young people) are making a choice to make a change in their community through community service, Leber said. Right now, there is the impression that young people are apathetic.

SV2K will be involved in six youth forums. The first, to be held in Providence, R.I., Sept. 16, will bring together local representatives, members of Congress and young adults to discuss their stands on issues.

The goal is to open communication between members of the community and legislators, Leber said.

Right now, those opportunities are few and far between, Leber said.

SV2K will also participate in a youth rally in Boston with YouthVote2000 Oct. 3, the scheduled date of the first presidential debate.

Leber said the organization demands that one presidential debate be a youth debate, with a youth moderator and young journalists asking the questions.

There needs to be a focus, Leber said. (Politicians) need to talk to young people in a way that will engage youth.

Young adults should also be in the audience and be allowed to ask questions, Leber said.

This is a tremendous challenge because (politicians) haven’t yet seen the young voice as united voice, he added.

Leber said the campaign has volunteers from Juneau, Alaska, to Melbourne, Fla., including students from the District, an area that typically has politically active youth.

GW student Jeff Marootian is the regional coordinator for the East Coast.

Marootian, a senior, supervises local coordinators in seven states and D.C.

The goal is to engage as many people in the process as possible, Marootian said. People, especially young people, need to understand the important role of politics.

Marootian, a human services major, said his involvement in community service prompted his political involvement.

I want to get people excited about the election and excited about community service, Marootian said. And people see that link.

ServiceVote2000 representatives attended both party conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles this summer.

During the week of each convention, the organization was involved in major service projects in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

There is an incredible number of young people who are working for their political parties, Leber said

He added that George P. Bush – presidential candidate George W. Bush’s nephew and youth liason – participated in an environmental project. Also, two of Gore’s daughters, who run the Democratic candidate’s youth initiative, helped at a food bank at the convention.

Both projects aimed to integrate the legislative issues of hunger and community service, Leber said. There were over 100 volunteers at each service project, Leber said.

We know that the people who are driving campaigns are youth people, Leber said.

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