Youth Town Hall

On May 30, 2018, YVote conducted a powerful Youth Town Hall for Elected Officials and Civic Influencers at Civic Hall.  The idea for the Town Hall was initiated by YVoter Saskia Van Horn, who was compelled by Youth Town Halls started in the wake of the Parkland shootings, which spread through the Town Hall Project. The Town Hall Project empowers constituents across the country to have face-to-face conversations with their elected representatives. Typically, these are forum where lawmakers give legislative updates and answer open questions from constituents.

But that’s not YVote’s style.  At our YVote Impact-athon in April, YVote youth spent time envisioning what they wanted OUR Town Hall to be like–what issues we most wanted to discuss, who we wanted to participate, what vibe we wanted to create.  YVote youth were VERY clear that they didn’t want a panel of talking heads. They were also clear that they didn’t want things to be adversarial or to be about a list of demands.  They wanted it to be collaborative, not combative.  They wanted it to touch upon gun control but also be about the broad range of issues they as young people are passionate about, as this is what creates the “why” of YVote.

And so we went to town, so to speak, on our Town Hall, generating a wish list of attendees; coming up with a roundtable format we thought would best foster interactiveness, intimacy, and authenticity; crafting questions that would enable us to share what’s most important to us and hear what’s most important to others, to learn from and with one another, and to begin to come up with ways to work together in the service of share goals for our city/state/country.

And it turns out, if you(th) build it, political and civic leaders will come.  We were very heartened that so many inspiring civic movers and shakers accepted our invitation and invested their time in a forum like this, including:

Along with a broad array of leaders from inspiring civic organizations and, most vitally, dozens and dozens of dynamic youth.  Participants were warmly greeted as they entered, and encouraged to share initial thoughts in response to some of our YVoters’ burning questions:

We opened and closed, appropriately, with powerful music by “artivist” Manii Veli, a student at City As School High School.

YVoter Divine Ndombo framed the evening  delivered powerful opening remarks.  She noted, “This Town Hall is about bridging the gap that contributes to the lack of true representation for young people and the issues they care about, it is about partnerships, and it is about sustaining the momentum for political action among 18-year-olds…At YVote we are brought together by the politics of our lives, the grievances of our communities, and the aspirations and goals we have for one another, our representatives, the coming midterms, and most especially our country. Our goal is to register 1 million young people by the end of 2018, and we are already on our way.”  She shared the breadth of our vision:  “This Town Hall is not just about voting, it is about the people behind the legislation and the arm we extend to one another to help move our common goals forward and elevate our communities. It is not just about the elections, but creating a generation of civically engaged young people and the continuation of intergenerational conversations.”

YVoter Katrice, supported by Destiny, established norms for the night, and Keyshawn, supported by Diavione, articulated the outcomes we are aiming for.

The energy of the evening was kinetic, and the Roundtable conversations were compelling and constructive.

Roundtable discussions agenda here.  We focused on important issues like:

    • Why are young people’s voices and views not heard as much in politics and what can we do to change these outcomes?
    • What’s the most important thing you’re working on now and what help do you need to achieve your vision?
    • What’s one thing you want to know–or that you wish people knew– about the process of making political change?
    • What ideas do you have for how we can work across various lines of difference while honoring core beliefs?
  • How does all of this connect to voting, and how can we work in concert to help young people feel that their voices AND their votes matter?

It was enthralling to have the electeds and other adult allies really listening to the views and values of young people and to see intergenerational alliances being forged.

“Unity” was a theme, as captured in this lovely one-minute video created by #WeAreAll18’s Francesca Giovannetti:

Representative Jerrold Nadler
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
Council Member Brad Lander
Council Member Steve Levin
Representatives Nadler and Carolyn Maloney

Here are some of the statements made by elected officials who joined us:

  • “When people say youth aren’t involved, I say we aren’t involving them enough and we aren’t creating opportunities for their leadership.  They have the intelligence and skills we need for the future–as was exemplified tonight.” (Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, NY-12)
  • “Democracy works when people vote.  It breaks down when they vote less because money prevails.  We need youth to vote to overcome Big Money and pressure groups like the NRA.” (Congress Member Jerrold Nadler, NY 10)
  • “I commit to further intergenerational alliances with young people across NYC and to keep the sustained energy that we have seen this year from young people across the country.” (Council Member Steve Levin, District 39)
  • “I commit to getting YVote members to run for County Committee–and to exploring organizing student-led debates in the fall.” (District Leader Alec Barrett, 69th AD/B)

Here are some of the commitments made during the Call to Action at evening’s end:

  • I commit to continue to encourage 18 year olds to register to vote and become civically engaged (Skyler Bonolo, Student, High School for Art and Design and #WeAreAll18)
  • I commit to researching the bill to allow 16 year olds to vote in city elections, and to working with Motivote.
  • I commit to telling all my friends and to making sure I do not let others take my voice away (Asha Roy, Middle School Student, Riverdale Country Day School)
  • I commit to continuing to speak up and use my voice and my power. (Alliyah Logan, Student, NYCiSchool)
  • I commit to going back to my school and creating a community where students feel like they are heard and valued.
  • I commit to keep my peers civically involved.
  • I commit to reaching out to more of my friends and my extended social group to engage and attend more events. (Genesis Logan, Student)
  • We commit to making sure we reach out and get involved with as many young people of all ages as possible (Sylvana Widman, student, Youth Progressive Policy Group)
  • I commit to finding out more about how to join my Community Board as a 16 year old and to find more people in my school who would enjoy getting involved in politics. (Maddy Wolfe, Student, Ya-Ya Network)
  • I commit to increasing youth government participation. (Maria Krajewski, Teacher, City As School)
  • I commit to make young people’s voices heard and to talk about the issues that students are concerned about.
  • I commit to helping develop a YVote campaign in FL when I move there for college. (Yessii Burgos, student, NYCiSchool and YVote)
  • I commit to spread the word to my adult friends and to form adult-youth partnerships (Rebecca Kwee, Best Fit)
  • I commit to being an activist but also a human being–inspired by the Town Hall group norms (Brandon Gonzalez, Student, Richard R Green High School of Teaching)
  • I commit to working to remove/reduce implicit bias from schools and youth programs. I commit to register voters but also to GET THEM TO VOTE.  I commit to educate youth and adults to learn about candidates.  I commit to fight exploitation of those oppressed by corporations. (Felix Tager, Student, Trevor Day School)
  • I commit to continuing to fight for and with young people who WILL win. (Nick Guttman, Our Blue Future)
  • I commit to continue to engage with these amazing young people and to LISTEN to what they want and need for the future. (Kellie Leeson, Empire State Indivisible)
  • I commit to try to recruit youth to help redesign conversations about policy. This movement is alive and well throughout the country but has not been designed for first time voters. (Rachel Makleff, Let’s Talk Democracy)
  • I commit to organize a national Youth Conference–from April 10-13, 2019– to spread the word and raise the voice. (Terry Born, Middle College National Consortium)
  • I commit to advocating for youth voice at all levels through organizations like this, and to building bridges with other youth groups. (Jade Harriell Arrindell, YVote Border Crossers & Coro Facilitator)
  • I commit to voting! (Drew Myers, Student, Packer Collegiate High School and co-founder of NYC Says Enough)
  • I commit to engaging young people throughout my campaign. (Suraj Patel, Congressional Candidate, District 15.)

Here are some questions that remain on people’s minds:

  • How can we help disenfranchised communities? (Sara Michaelis, parent of three)
  • Why do young people intend to vote but not follow through? (Emily Graham, Motivote)
  • What part does race play in the voting process? (Asha Roy, middle school student)
  • How do we overcome powerful government interests and money in politics? (Annie Gurvis, Motivote)
  • To what extent should I “respect” others’ points when I strongly disagree with them? (Asha Roy)
  • Are there more platform opportunities to get more young people involved? (Sylvana Widman, Student, YPPG)
  • How can we involve real life issues in classrooms and ensure actions are taken? (Yessii Burgos, Student, NYCiSchool and YVote)
  • How can we work with private industry and government to empower communities? (Danny Tsoi, FloraMind)
  • What are the issues youth are most concerned about–and what solutions make sense to THEM? (Terry Born)
  • What are the spaces through which we can explore specific issues being voted on? (Rebecca Kwee, Best Fit)
  • How does lawmaking happen in real time? (Genesis Logan, student)
  • How do I learn about both sides of issues? (Niall Party, student)
  • How can adults both listen and provide guidance and support? (Felix Tager, student)
  • What future events like this are being planned?
  • How I can best help habituate voting? (Suraj Patel)

Here are some statements made at the end of the evening:

  • We are the ones who need to make changes because democracy is us. (Shuma Easmin, Student, Energy Tech HS and YVote)
  • Voting for elected officials is not the only way to be civically engaged.  Vote in budget meetings within your district, etc. (Brandon Gonzalez, Student, Richard R Green High School of Teaching)
  • I got a lot of important ideas here tonight.  I’m smarter and better for having come. (Rachel Makleff, Let’s Talk Democracy)
  • We need to get more youth involved in creating a civics curriculum that can be taught in every school. (Terry Born, Middle College National Consortium)
  • Tonight underscored the importance of intergenerational alliance.  We’re all in this together.  There are places where we share beliefs and places where we don’t but we can ALL invest in young people. (Jonathan Pillot, #WeAreAll18)
  • Listen to the youth! (Rebecca Kwee, Best Fit)
  • The chaos in Washington gets the headlines–and arouses our anger–but so much can be accomplished closer to home. (Alessandra Biaggi, Candidate for State Senate, District 34-Bronx/Westchester)
  • I see a lot of apathy in the world AND I see a lot of brilliant people here.  I’m pretty sure I want to run for Office in the future.  I promise if I get to Office–when I get to Office–to put as much attention into listening as to talking. (Katrice Ramirez Henry, Student, YVote and Cobble Hill High School for American Studies)
  • Pledge to vote with Motivote to ensure your voice is heard and your vote counted. (Annie Gurvis, Motivote)
  • Registering to vote is only half the work. You have to decide what issues to hold people accountable to in order to get justice. (Hawk Newsome, Black Lives Matter NYC)
  • The youth’s voice is powerful and ever changing. (Skyler Bonolo, Student, High School for Art & Design and #WeAreAll18)
  • We elders need to provide the glue — help the youth movement to ‘make it all stick together’–and then get the hell out of the way. I feel motivated to stay in good health so that I can live long and see these youth come into the fullness of their powers, since they’re going to rock this old world. (Julie Conason, LearnEdVT)

  • We are the youth and our voices WILL be heard.  We must work together for change. (Felix Tager, Student, Trevor Day School)
  • Young people have tremendous voting power in a city where so few people vote.  USE IT in the June 26 Primary. (Suraj Patel, Candidate)

YVoter Diavione Frazier closed the evening on a powerful note with her Call to Action, reminding us that we need to carry the energy and commitment BEYOND this room to the people who AREN’T here. She reminded us that we need to reach out to people we know and let them know young people care.  She reminded us that we need to reach out to other young people to let them know that they can make a difference.  She reminded us that we need to support others with education and resources.  She reminded us that we have to work to make them care.  She reminded us that we need to help everyone understand “why vote.”  YVote will do all we can to do so, in collaboration with incredible allies.

We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that young people feel both empowered and accountable for creating the positive political change we need.