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Economy, racial injustice: Young Ohioans are turning out the vote

For the first time, young people, all born after 1980, make up more than half the U.S. population, according to a Brookings Institute analysis of the U.S. census -- making them a significant share of eligible voters. Ivette Feliciano spoke with Prentiss Haney, Co-Executive Director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, on how his organization is helping develop the youth electorate.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    An evaluation of U.S. census data by the Brookings Institution found that in 2019 millennials and younger generations, all born after 1980, now make up more than half of the population for the first time. They also represent a significant share of eligible voters.

    Traditionally, youth turnout in previous elections has been low, but this not has been a traditional year with record numbers of young people organizing against climate change, police brutality and civil injustice.

    One organization here in Ohio is helping to develop the youth electorate.

    Newshour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano spoke with Prentiss Haney, Co-Executive Director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    So we know that in-person voting started in Ohio this week and we've seen reports about really long lines and hours-long wait times. What have you been seeing on the ground there?

  • Prentiss Haney:

    Well, what I've mostly been seeing is excitement. You know, we've been waiting for this moment all year and some people for the last couple years. We have a very diverse group of young people who are engaged in our elections. There's about 400,000-plus young people of color who are in Ohio.

    Even though the pandemic really slowed down some of our efforts in the field, we saw reported by the Ohio Voter Contact Center that 912,000 new people have registered to vote since 2016. And specifically, 250,000 of those folks are young people between 18 and 25. So there is a lot of excitement for young people to come out and vote this year.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    What are you hearing from those young people about voting in the context of a pandemic, an economic recession, and also the national uprisings against racial injustices?

  • Prentiss Haney:

    The main thing that I'm hearing is that people understand that this is one of the most important elections in their lifetime. They have lived in a country that almost had two different realities.

    One is like, you know, seeing yourself more reflected on television and culture and arts and being able to tell diverse stories. And meanwhile, there is like crippling student debt and an economy that is not prepared for young people to enter into the workforce.

    And so, the young people who I think, you know, especially around May with George Floyd, were dealing with this sort of like two dual realities of, I see myself as an agent of change, I see myself as someone who is fighting for, you know, changing the world, and I see all these things. Those young people turned that pain into power in the streets. And so now I think that this is the completion of that cycle. Those same young people are saying, like, not only am I showing up in the streets, but I'm gonna show up today, Election Day and every day that follows to make sure that a democracy works for all of us.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And you're the co-executive director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. What's the mission there? And what have you and your team been doing to get the vote out?

  • Prentiss Haney:

    The Ohio Organizing Collaborative is a statewide innovative community organizing group. We believe that every day Ohioans, from all walks of life, students, people of faith, students, young people, people who have been directly impacted by mass incarceration, women of color who work in the care economy, are all people who are searching for and trying to find a way to be able to live out their values in the public arena.

    Without traditional tactics, such as door knocking, you know, being able to go to community events because of COVID, we have turned our eye toward what we call relation organizing, which is simply just talking to your friends and family about why this election is important to you and why you need to show up.

    When you talk to someone that you know, that you love about something you care about, they're more likely to listen, to take serious the issue you hear about and to take action because you asked them to do it.

    Ivette Feliciano And as you're having these conversations with people, are they concerned about voter suppression in Ohio?

  • Prentiss Haney:

    I think most people want to, want to be able to trust that the plan that they have is a plan that they can execute.

    So, there is a lot of disinformation out about the election, about how to cast your ballot, you know. And the person who in your life that you'll trust the most to help you get through that is probably someone you know. And so what we've been doing to combat some of the confusion that folks may feel, and to keep them excited about showing up, is making sure that they're connecting and talking to friends that they know that they're amplifying on social media — trusted sources about how you go out to vote and how do you cast your ballot. And I think that has really changed some of the tides around people being a little nervous, evident in like some of the historic early vote we're seeing, we're seeing in Ohio.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And you were a field organizer for the Obama campaign in Ohio. How does 2020 feel different?

  • Prentiss Haney:

    I think 2012 felt like, felt like continuing change. And I think 2020 feels like a renewal, especially for new voters who are voting for the first time. They are making the commitment that people made in 2008, then they're convincing other folks who made that commitment before to renew that commitment moving forward.

    The biggest turnout tool is the people on your phone, on your Facebook page, in your DMs. And if you can harness the reason why you're showing up this year and take that energy and have that courageous conversation with someone in your life to get them to make a vote plan, you are just as important as every other voter, every person running for elected office. You can make that change. And so that is the power that we have this year, is that our relationships will make the difference. And I'm so excited about that.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Prentiss Haney of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • Prentiss Haney:

    Thank you all.

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