This is in response to City Council candidate Tom Stohlman’s October 6 Opinion Letter, “Why the bad voter turnout?,” he asked: “Why do student residents, even the ones who are registered voters in Cambridge, pass on their chance to have a say in their local government?” I appreciate that Mr. Stohlman has asked this question and hopefully other students will weigh in as well.
To put it plainly, if the candidate running isn’t energetic, reaching out to student needs, or providing opportunities for students to be engaged, they will stay home. We witnessed an unusual high voter turnout from young people during the 2008 Presidential election, and I think that local government can capture the same tools that were used. One of those tools used by almost all of the Presidential candidates was social networking. Twitter, Youtube, MySpace, Facebook, and blogging, to name a few. Additionally it comes down to the candidate, their platform and whether or not they can connect to voters. For example, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin captured a lot of young hearts. They were both energetic, upbeat and they continuously had a lot of enthusiasm while they campaigned, which is why they drew large crowds at many of their events.
Furthermore, young people probably don’t turn out because they probably feel that their local government is unreachable to them and that perhaps government or voting doesn’t affect them. As candidates campaign, learn from students why they don’t vote and pledge to help change that, even if your not elected to City Council. Another idea, Mr. Stohlman, is to conduct market research and ask students what they look for out of their local government and then work on implementing the popular ideas. Students won’t vote for a candidate that doesn’t reach out to their constituency the way that Obama and Palin’s outreach prevailed. What are the solutions? Campaign on campus; listen to their needs; alleviate the barriers that cause students not to be engaged; and be engaged as you talk about your ideas for helping students who are voicing concerns.
In addition to campaigning, City Council candidates Leland Cheung and Minka vanBeuzekom are also registering people to vote and both of them have been actively using social networking to campaign. My State Representative, William Brownsberger, is probably one of the first local politicians I’ve seen who has latched on to social networking and actively use it for his constituency. He also has a website where he sends out a monthly newsletter to his e-mail listserv regarding his legislation. Moreover, his website is structured like a blog so that constituents can weigh in their thoughts, and in the e-mail he always encourages us by saying: “I would appreciate your comments on this.” He also has Twitter, Facebook, and recently created a Youtube channel where he posts his meetings and interviews.
This is a different era now and it’s time to upgrade to the next level. Also, don’t just create a Twitter/Youtube/Facebook page and expect people to find it on their own, which they probably will, but talk about in your debates like Leland and Minka do or put the social media icons on your website. Leland recently posted a Youtube clip that addressed students and e-mailed/Twittered/Facebook’d it to everyone signed up with his networks. As he campaigns, he talks about staying in touch through social networking, which I’m sure that if he’s elected he will continue to use. I’ve visited all of the candidate’s websites and a lot of them are outdated, but the top websites that stood out were the user-friendly sites, like Silvia Glick, Leland Cheung, and Minka. I hope not to offend any of the other candidate’s websites, but the OpEd talked about engaging students, and one of those ways is to have a user-friendly website that’s actively updated on Cambridge-related issues. Will this turn into votes for Leland and Minka? We will find out after the election.
In 2006, I planned and marketed an event in my former town. I went door-to-door, approached people on the street and advertised on MySpace and in the local newspaper. Do you know what the majority of people that came to the event heard the information from? Yep, you guessed it, MySpace! In 2007 I was e-mailed on Facebook by the Obama campaign – they were sending e-mails asking people to check out his website and that’s how I got to know about his campaign early on. It was probably hard work for those early Obama supporters, but it paid off because look where he is now.
It would also be nice if the City Council can incorporate a blog onto the City Council website, have their weekly meetings uploaded on Youtube, Meeting Minutes on Facebook and use Twitter to connect each blog post, and inform the student constituency during every academic year, for example, have a little blurb in the newspaper at all of the college campuses in Cambridge. You want to engage students? Go where they are.
Shorter version of this was written for the Cambridge Chronicle, published on Wicked Local, Cambridge, Oct 13, 2009 @ 08:37 AM.