Amid family, friends and other distinguished guests, the organizers of Generation Engage, the latest attempt to recruit young voters, formally launched their appeal at an event held last week at the Kennedy Center.
Generation Engage, a nonprofit organization, was born on Nov. 3, 2004, after a disappointing 42 percent of voters aged 18 to 24 cast ballots in the presidential election, 14 percent below the national average.
Justin Rockefeller, a longtime friend of the organization’s founders, Adrian and Devin Talbott, said the two asked themselves “What can we do?” following the election. Rockefeller, also a co-founder, said he has always been involved in politics because of his father, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and wanted to support his friends.
Mingo Roberts, another longtime friend, felt the same way. “The No. 1 reason I’m here is to support my friends,” he said in an interview at the VIP gathering before the event. “It’s a special thing to get the youth involved. They’re great guys, I’ll support them any way I can.”
There are a number of organizations dedicated to inspiring the youths of America to take part in the future of democracy by voting in national and local elections. From the NAACP to MTV’s Rock the Vote, and even to rap mogul Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, many groups are trying to get the youngest segment of the electorate interested in political issues, as is Generation Engage.
However, the new group is taking a unique approach.
“We are explicitly targeting the roughly one-half of 18- to 24-year-olds who are not in college,” said Adrian Talbott, who is serving as executive director, in a statement. “This forgotten half of our generation — the young people who have already entered the labor force — has been marginalized for too long.”
When most get-out-the-vote organizations are parking buses on college campuses to get out their message, Generation Engage will be developing pilot programs in cities around the country. Its programs will rely on local people working in their own communities instead of on endorsements by celebrities, slogans, and ads that promote voting as being “cool.”
“We are going to build locally based operations, spearheaded by young, local standouts, which will be connected to one another through an overarching national network,” Devin Talbott said in a statement.
Generation Engage will begin its mission in June in North Carolina and Virginia, two states that Adrian Talbott believes are most in need of such an organization. He is familiar with the youth population in these states after working on the campaigns of former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), and the 2004 Senatorial campaign of former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (D), and he said he understands that many of the young working citizens are struggling in the current economy.
“These people will be sent and sold the message that they should get involved in politics, that voting needs to become an important part of their lives,” he said in a statement.
The ambience at Wednesday night’s event was lighthearted and cheerful, with young and old in attendance to celebrate the achievement of the young men and women who made the organization possible. After an hour or so of wine, hors d’oeuvres, and good conversation, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) made a brief speech. “I’m actually here from MTV to provide musical entertainment,” he quipped. But all joking was aside as he continued: “Everyone likes to complain [about government] but not enough people are doing something about it.”
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), another of the organization’s initial supporters, also spoke at the event. “The policy decided by today’s leaders will affect tomorrow’s leaders,” he said. “I thank Generation Engage for their commitment … not as a Senator but as a parent.”
Hagel introduced Coretta Scott King, widow of political activist Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke about the importance of involvement in politics and how many young people today underestimate the significance of voting.
“I certainly share the concern of Generation Engage about the weak voter participation rates among young people in particular. We have simply got to do a better job of inspiring young people to get involved in the political process,” she said. “We must try to make political participation a more permanent activity, and really, a way of life for young people.”
Generation Engage receives all of its funding from individual donors. To learn more about the organization, visit its Web site, https://www.GenerationEngage.org.