Have you ever been frustrated by your inability to vote? Wanted to find another way to influence our government? Or wondered if you could do more to support your favorite candidate? The good news is you don’t have to be eighteen to have a say in politics, and your say in our democracy doesn’t have to end after you cast your vote.
As we come closer to the New Hampshire primary elections on February 11th 2020, and gear up for the presidential election on November 3rd, 2020, there are a number of candidates with campaigns on the ground looking for volunteers to help get the word out about the candidate. This doesn’t mean that to be involved you have to choose a campaign to support. There are a number of advocacy and lobbying groups that work to get laws passed on specific issues who need people willing to spread the word, phone bank, or work events. There are also often protests, walk outs, and marches open to all who are interested. If you’re wondering what you can do to support your cause, this article will provide you with several examples of people who are actively aiding their political causes and are eager to help others to do the same.
Ella Gianino (‘21) is a volunteer for the Kamala Harris campaign. She found this opportunity through the Young Democrats of America, a group for Democrats aged 14 – 36. Gianino is a part of a subgroup, the High School Democrats. She explained that she chose to volunteer because she’s, “always been really interested in politics; I think it’s a really important part of our society,” and Harris is her favorite candidate.
By participating in the High School Democrats and volunteering for the Harris campaign, Gianino has had access to a variety of exclusive events and opportunities. These opportunities have included invitations to the State Democratic Convention, a house party with Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chastin, and Democratic debate watch parties. Gianino said, “we literally just played cornhole with [Buttigieg] and it was just for [the High School Democrats]. It was really cool because there were like fifty of us there, and it was a really cool experience.”
To help with the Harris campaign, Gianino often does phone banking. Phone banking for a campaign means that supporters will call constituents to have a conversation about the candidate with them. This may mean discussing whether they intend to vote, who they intend to vote for, and why the volunteer believes that their candidate is the right choice. Phone banking, along with canvassing (same concept, but door to door), are popular ways for volunteers to be involved with campaigns.
While the Young Democrats of America were able to connect Gianino with the Harris campaign, the Young Republicans of America is only open to people aged 18 – 40. If you’re under eighteen and interested in volunteering for a Republican candidate or connecting with your local organizer to learn about events to support that candidate, their websites usually include information about how you can get involved or a channel to contact the campaign.
If you were a University of New Hampshire (UNH) student interested in connecting with the Pete Buttigieg presidential campaign, you would reach Shoshana Kaplan, the organizer for the campaign. As an organizer, part of Kaplan’s job is to find local people interested in learning more about Buttigieg, talk with them, connect them with events like debate watch parties and the New Hampshire Democratic Convention, and organize them to volunteer for the campaign. She’s one of those people you see wearing campaign shirts hanging out in various businesses in downtown Durham, working intently on her laptop or starting conversations about voting and “Mayor Pete,” as Buttigieg is often referred to. Until recently, she was also the organizer for Durham and the surrounding towns, including high school students. Now, she focuses solely on UNH and works with college students daily.
Even before she was helping others support Mayor Pete, Kaplan was actively involved in campaigning. In an interview, Kaplan spoke to how working on a campaign has influenced her personally and why she believes campaigning can be so meaningful. She said, “having those door to door conversations and having those conversations with people that live in their community and hearing what matters to them is really significant.
Everyone has their own story and you don’t get to hear perspectives outside of that story. So, I think it’s important for young people to understand that when they go to their secondary school or when they get their jobs they’re going to meet people from all different backgrounds. This way you actually get to meet people and hear their stories and see how their stories have shaped their values and have shaped what they need in politics from our leaders.”
While today she appreciates all the skills she’s gained, Kaplan hadn’t always planned on turning politics into a career. She explained that her focus had been women’s rights and she decided to look into campaigning after having repeatedly been told about the valuable skills it can give you. She said, “all I wanted to do was make the world a more accessible place for young women and I kept getting into places that politics were the main scheme.”
She said her experiences campaigning, “wasn’t something I knew I needed, but it was something I was very grateful I started doing.”
If you aren’t ready to start working on the campaign trail for any one candidate, but have strong feelings about an issue, there are a variety of lobbying and advocacy groups looking for volunteers and supporters. Everytown for Gun Safety, the National Rifle Association, the National Right to Life, and the Climate Reality Project are all examples of organizations that focus on specific issues and offer opportunities for people to join or volunteer.
Everytown for Gun Safety has a subgroup specifically for middle school, high school, and college students who are passionate about passing stricter gun control laws called Students Demand Action. Rebecca Boyd is a student at George Mason University who volunteers for Students Demand Action and is considering turning politics into a career. She wasn’t always involved in politics like this, although she had always held more Democratic views than her peers in her in her Georgia home. Boyd said, “I was always pretty interested in politics but didn’t feel like I was in a space where I could be open about that because there was a lot of backlash towards people with views like mine. So when the shooting at Parkland happened and it came to organizing our walkout, that’s where I started getting involved.”
Boyd started by lobbying and phone banking for Students Demand Action because she felt it was her duty to work towards stricter gun control laws for people whom she’s seen hurt by it. She said, “I started going to more protests and figuring out where my voice was and realizing the power of my voice.”
Boyd spoke about a recent event she participated in with Everytown for Gun Safety called Letters for Change. Boyd said, “We delivered six thousand constituent letters from all over the country and had thirty Senate meetings. It was just an incredible day.”
Boyd said, while there are high schoolers in her chapter of the organization, “hopefully this year we can get more involved with our high school students and recruit them up to the college level because they’re making a lot of really powerful change.”
She emphasized that in this line of work, conversation and connection is especially important because, “you can’t fight for people if you don’t really know their needs and if you don’t really know the people you’re fighting for.”
Boyd explained that when working with people who have a lot of strong opinions and big personalities, as many people this passionate do, organization can be frustrating because everyone has their own strong ideas. She advised others who face this frustration to do what she does. “Just remember why you’re there and always keep in your mind one or two people who have personally affected [you].”
Another way to influence politics without voting is through grassroots activism. According to ThoughtWorks, “Grassroots activism is about mobilizing a group of people, who are passionate about a cause and harnessing the power of their conviction to push for a different outcome.” In other words, if you can’t find an organization that supports your cause or a candidate you want to support, you can do it yourself. Often this means protesting, talking to your representatives, and utilizing social media.
Amy Jancsy (‘20) is vegan and often protests animal cruelty, factory farming, and raises awareness about how a plant based diet can help climate change. Jancsy said, “we obviously have to push for climate policy, which is huge. But switching to a more plant based or vegan diet is the single most effective thing that one person can do to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Janscy said that she often does animal advocacy, and animal activism including tabling, putting up posters, and talking to people. She also suggests resources like documentaries when people are curious about her diet. Janscy said that she organizes most of her activism and advocacy by herself or with a group of friends.
Janscy said, “I think it’s important to do grassroots activism because it’s so easy, anybody can do it. You don’t have to be involved in a group. There’s no excuses. Learn about a topic that you care about and do something with it.”
Not being old enough to vote hasn’t stopped Janscy or Gianino, it didn’t stop Boyd, and it doesn’t have to stop you. Kaplan said of Buttigieg, “he wants to listen to every single person whether or not they can vote because they are still a person in this country.” So speak up if you have an opinion you want heard. You can make people listen to you long before you’re able to vote, and impact others far beyond your vote.
While reporting on this story I contacted the National Right to Life, the National Republican Committee, the New Hampshire Republican Party, and the Chris Sununu campaign through the “Contact” or “Contact Us” pages on their website, and did not receive a reply. Additionally, I messaged the New Hampshire Republican Party on Instagram and did not receive a reply. I also attempted to contact the national Donald Trump campaign through several avenues and was unable to reach them.