This midterm election season, sophomore biology major Cyé Jacobs is determined to use her platform as a college student for political change.
“I’m a queer, Black woman living in America,” Jacobs said. “My rights matter just as your rights matter.”
Jacobs is part of the youth steering committee of #VoteThatJawn, a city-wide effort to get college students and young people to register to vote for Election Day, Nov. 6. The project began as an effort to involve people who didn’t know they were eligible to vote, didn’t have the resources to register or weren’t engaged in the political process.
More than 10 partners are collaborating on #VoteThatJawn, including The Philadelphia Citizen, University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, the Klein College of Media and Communication, the Community College of Philadelphia and WURD Radio.
Public relations professor David Brown, who is helping carry out the project, said #VoteThatJawn is a two-part process.
The first step is getting people to register to vote in time for the November election by the registration deadline on Oct. 9. The second step is encouraging everyone to turn out to the polls on Election Day.
Brown and Jacobs were introduced to the project by Lorene Cary, a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. Cary started Safe Kids Stories, an online crowdsourcing project for college students to share personal stories which hosts the #VoteThatJawn campaign.
To reach as many students and young people as possible, Brown said social media engagement is key.
“Most people will be able to [vote] if they know other people that do it,” Brown added.
On Twitter and its website, the #VoteThatJawn account is providing fun facts about voting and promoting its events, which Jacobs said are when the real magic will happen.
On Sept. 22, the group will host a two-hour-long workshop at media organization WHYY’s Public Media Commons on 7th Street near Race. Teams from Philadelphia colleges and high schools will discuss how to get people to register to vote and go to the polls on Election Day.
Brown said opening up communication between seniors in high school, college students and other Philadelphia youth is key to #VoteThatJawn’s strategy for increasing voter turnout. The campaign aims to change the narrative that one person’s vote doesn’t make a difference.
“Every voice counts,” Brown said. “A voice doesn’t matter until it’s heard. … I’ve [known] people who have lived and died for the right to vote.”
“If you get into the habit of voting and paying attention to elections, that’s where the rubber meets the road,” he added. “To say, ‘I’m a participating member of this community,’ that matters.”
According to an analysis by Democratic polling firm TargetSmart, registration rates among voters ages 18-29 have surged since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February. The number of young voters nationwide has increased by more than two percent, while Pennsylvania saw a 16 percent increase – a larger spike than anywhere else in the country.
At the Sept 22. increased, Jacobs and the rest of the team plan to register people to vote. The free event will have DJs and is open to the public.
Jacobs said she is a firm believer in starting political conversations among young people.
“It’s better when youth are telling other youth like, ‘Hey, listen, this is actually important,’ instead of some old, white man on TV telling us,” she added.
Carly Reilly, a senior political science major, agreed.
“[Young people] need to get represented within the government,” Reilly said. “Not a lot of people our age are aware and vote often, so it’s important to get our government officials to represent our ideals, not just the people who are older than us.”
Brown and Jacobs acknowledge there is a long road ahead and said #VoteThatJawn won’t be slowing down anytime soon. The two are confident this movement will continue after the midterm elections.
“Every election is a big election,” Brown said. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count. … You get the elected leadership you deserve if you don’t vote.”