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Political reform organization holds summit to engage millennial voters

photo by Jada Jackson
photo by Jada Jackson

Come Election Day, Sarah Brune hopes her fellow millennials will flock to the polls.

To help this happen, Brune, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign For Political Reform, recently helped organize a panel, “Engaging Millennials in Government and Politics” here at Columbia College Chicago.

“It’s important to have young people focused on civic engagement,” Brune said, “This is a very important election, and we need to make sure activists are still involved politically even if their candidate doesn’t win.”

Millennials, people born between 1982 and 2000, now exceed baby boomers in population, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau. With such high numbers it’s with little to no surprise that getting young adults out to vote on Election Day would be a top priority for all the candidates from the presidential race to local contests.

“Millennials should be researching and getting informed,” said audience member Matt Latourelle, a director of editorial services for Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan online political encyclopedia. Latourelle said at last month’s event he hopes millennials educate themselves and head straight to the polls Nov. 8 because “the (voter) turnout for younger people in previous years has been abysmal. That needs to change.”

One group trying to increase those numbers is the Mikva Challenge, which was represented on the panel by Michelle Morales, the executive director of the organization. Mikva Challenge works with schools across the Chicago area to engage students in the political process.

“We train the youth to know what the issues are,” Morales said. “Training them to be community leaders is an important thing, and we’ve already seen an increase in student participation in politics because of that.”

The millennial engagement panel was among four topics tackled during the political reform group’s daylong “Annual Summit for Action & Civil Reform” held Sept. 15 at Columbia College’s Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

Brune mentioned how the downtown campus location was beneficial in attracting college students to the event, which was free and open to the public.

Besides some Columbia College students, the session, moderated by Dometi Pongo, news director and morning anchor for WVON 1690 AM, also drew some students from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Some came to hear their UIC Professor, Shawn Healy, the Learning Scholar for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s Democracy Program, who was among the panelists.

photo by Jada Jackson
photo by Jada Jackson

“Only 46 percent of young people voted last year (in the last presidential election)…  which means half of young people didn’t go out to vote,” said UIC student James Esparza.

Panelist Manolia Charlotin, with The Media Consortium, a network of progressive media outlets, said the best way to reach millennials is to connect with them on their own terms.

“I don’t believe we need to engage millennials; I think we need to develop platforms to see how they are engaging,” said Charlotin. “That would presume that we are partners and that we are collaborating with them in their development.”

Other panelists included Emile Cambry Jr., of Blue1647, an entrepreneurship and technology center in Chicago, and Gia Orr, with the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission.

The millennial session drew about 70 people, and Brune said she has high hopes for civic engagement for her generation, which she described as “inspired.” A collection of the organization’s tweets covering the event can be found here.

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