Instead of shutting off her computer with a full day of online classes under her belt, high school student Claudia Liverseed often leaves it open. She needs it to encourage young people to vote in the November election — even though she is too young to vote.
Liverseed and other students at Eagan High School are actively “text banking,” a way to communicate with potential voters via text similar to phone banking.
Like other youths, Liverseed wanted to have more of a say in the political process in her community. It’s how she got involved with Planned Parenthood Generation Action, a network of young organizers who run events at their high school or on college campuses. Currently, much of their activity is focused on voter engagement, which is done remotely.
“I got started with a chapter at my own high school,” Liverseed said. “It was really interesting because at a high school like ours, there’s not a lot of political advocacy clubs, not a lot of ways to get involved in politics.”
Liverseed is one of many young people under 18 eager to participate in democracy in the months or years leading up to their first election.
Research shows that youths who learn about voting in high school are more likely to become engaged and informed when they are eligible to vote, according to a nonpartisan poll from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE).
The study also showed that young people who had these experiences in high school are paying more attention to the 2020 election and are more informed about it.
“I can’t vote in the next election, and the majority of the people I work with can’t vote,” Liverseed said. “The feeling of being overwhelmed, not knowing what to do, wanting to make a difference, but having to find a way to do so as a high schooler is really hard sometimes, because people don’t give us opportunities, especially politicians, because we can’t vote.”
Once a week, Eagan students gather online to text bank to a list of young voters. The volunteers ask people to pledge to vote, a simple ask that helps people make a voting plan. Closer to Election Day, they’ll follow up with reminders to head to the polls or drop off their mail-in ballot.
Students for Life student spokesperson Savanna Beaurline, who is based in Minnesota, is seeing high levels of engagement around anti-abortion issues from busy high school students who have a lot on their plates.
“A lot of people are making phone calls, so phone banking, encouraging people to vote pro-life first. You can make a call to North Carolina or Montana, you can make the calls remotely from wherever you’re at,” Beaurline said.
Young people have gotten particularly creative on social media, Beaurline said, with blogs, Instagram posts and informational graphics on Facebook “to promote the message.”
In Apple Valley, 17-year-old Isabelle Wong is paying close attention to state and local elections, in addition to the presidential, even though she won’t be old enough to cast a ballot. The Apple Valley High School senior serves as the logistics director for the Minnesota Youth for Climate Justice, one of several big titles held by the teen organizers.
“I know there are people out there that will make the right decision when it comes to voting but I also feel like I’m not doing my part,” Wong said. “I guess I feel like I should be doing more and I could be doing more,” Wong said.
Wong became interested in politics at 13, when mass shootings at high schools across the country rocked the lives of many young people. She went to a constituent meeting with her mom to ask questions about violence of then-state Rep. Erin Maye Quade, whom she later job shadowed. A couple of years later, Wong realized that she was less interested in politics and more interested in organizing.
She helped plan last fall’s Youth Climate Strike, where more than 8,000 people gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol for an international push to pressure lawmakers to enact climate policies.
Being involved in organizing has helped to alleviate some of the feelings of helplessness she has experienced this election cycle.
“I think getting involved in grassroots organizations is super important, and just trying to really educate yourself, especially right now,” Wong said.
Youth organizing manager Kathleen Otto, who works with Liverseed and many other students at Planned Parenthood, said that the dedication of young Minnesotans has been inspiring, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change their lives.
“There’s just so much on the shoulders of young people right now,” Otto said. “Not only are they trying to go to school in a pandemic, I feel like they are being blamed for outbreaks right now, but they’re also being told that democracy rests on their shoulders.”
Instead of crawling into a hole and hiding from the political environment, Otto has seen them step up to engage others around the election.
“We’re seeing just an outpouring of young people showing up and doing the work,” Otto said.
Both Liverseed and Otto encouraged those who are eligible to vote in November to do so for those who cannot.
Wong agreed. “I especially think that local voting is the most important,” she said. “There’s a lot that our local representatives and state senators can do, and I think people take that for granted.”
Though they cannot vote, Wong added, young people can spread the word to friends, family and other potential voters, and “ … speak to them about how young people perceive issues because some people have very different views than their parents.”
Though things feel a bit uncertain as the election approaches, Liverseed said she will remain optimistic.
“We need to work together and talk with people who share these feelings, and share the same values. It’s empowering doing the work and trying to make a difference,” Liverseed said, “in what ways we can.”
Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation. 612-673-7112 • @zoemjack