“18 In ’08” Interview Part I

Aquarian Weekly 6/25/08 REALITY CHECK

18 IN ’08 Part I Young Voices Crying Out In The Wilderness

They told us they would turn the electorate upside-down in ’72. They didn’t. They told us they’d flood the gates after Nixon went nuts. They didn’t. They promised to show up in the 80s’, and guess what? And then came the 90s’, and well, nothing really. Oh, and after the hemming and hawing and legal hand wringing mania of 2000, the horrors of 9/11, and wars raging on two fronts, they vowed to show up like never before. But, alas, although the 2004 contribution was considerably better than a little, it was still painfully short of significant. Now they claim they’re enthused, primed, and motivated like never before, and in many ways during this historic primary season they’ve delivered in record numbers; but the question remains: Will the elusive, mercurial, slightly disillusioned and mostly lazy Youth Vote make a serious dent in the body politic this November?

If they do, as they did in many tight state midterm elections in 2006, then it may very well be their voice that decides who the next president of the United States will be.

Late in 2005, a member of this potentially crucial voting block, then 16 year-old student and burgeoning filmmaker, David Burstein, stepped from the shadows of his disappointing predecessors to produce and direct “18 In ’08”, subtitled, “A Film. A Movement. A Change.”, an ambitious documentary utilizing interviews with celebrities, pundits, politicians, and voters of all ages discussing the importance of young Americans to exercise their right to vote.

Released last year, the piece has an idealized, almost emotionally massaged tinge to it, all-but begging the heretofore disenfranchised to at least consider stripping away the layers of immature political apathy for a more hands-on approach. The film is painstakingly nonpartisan and filled with views from all perspectives; poignant, pertinent, and at times humorous, even when not intended.

Burstein could have stopped there, but he did not. He followed the project and its seemingly endless promotion (to date it has been screened over 400 times and helped register more than 21,000 voters) with an organization of the same name, which, by his definition aims to “register, engage, and involve the youth vote in our political process”.

This fall the “18 In ’08” juggernaut, online at www.18in08.com, will visit 50 colleges across the country, that is after launching a celebrity PSA series this summer while also hosting a series of “youth-focused debates and town halls”, of which I hope to be part. But since this is the home office of skepticism and cranky ennui, we put the kid to the test.

james campion : My favorite quote from your film is former Howard Dean campaign guru, Joe Trippi saying that in 2004 the youth vote was the only demographic that grew since the 2000 election, which is, to say the least, not saying much.

David Burstein: It is true that voter participation between 18 to 24 year-olds increased eleven percent over the previous election, which was a bump over the 2000 numbers, and although I see this as progress, it is definitely not worthy of young people who have a lot at stake in this election. It’s a good sign that these numbers are going up, but they need to increase further. Most importantly, we need to raise awareness that the numbers are going up. When we were shooting the film, we found politicians that didn’t have these facts on their radar screen, and if we end up having the largest turnout of young voters since receiving the right to vote, which I think will happen, then showing these numbers will significantly impact the system by proving to future candidates that it is a constituency they’ll have to pay attention to.

Your film states that 37% of the 29 million possible young voters participated in the 2004 presidential election. Can you juxtapose that with the 1972 election, where, as you say, the greatest numbers turned out?

It was 37 percent compared to about 48 percent in ’72, which was the largest in history.

So just about half the possible voter block of 18 to 24 in ’72 showed up and far less than that in 2004, which was a significant jump from previously sad showings. Is it crazy to think perhaps we can get to half this year, or perhaps to your way of thinking, that’s not good enough?

“If we end up having the largest turnout of young voters since receiving the right to vote, which I think will happen, then showing these numbers will significantly impact the system by proving to future candidates that it is a constituency they’ll have to pay attention to.”

If we can get to fifty percent or even hit sixty percent, then people will take note that the Youth Vote is one to be reckoned with. If you tally all the votes cast in the primaries this year it equals the totals of many previous general elections, so fifty percent would be a success, but I think we still have to do better than that.

But will it translate to the fall?

Well, thanks to the extended primary against Hillary Clinton the Obama Campaign has the advantage of having run in every state, building offices and student organizations in each with all the names, e-mail addresses, and voter ID’s that go with it. So signs point towards an astronomical number of young people voting, even with the fair drop-off rate of disillusioned Clinton voters. And there is also the fact that we’ve never had a general election where less people voted from any demographic than did in the primary race.

It’s my understanding that Obama’s campaign, specifically in the smaller caucuses, where he essentially wrapped up the Democratic nomination, utilized energetic young people who were well groomed for political canvassing, and many of these kids were high school age with time on their hands for an old-fashioned ground game.

Oh, yes. The Obama Campaign did unprecedented outreach to high school students, particularly starting with Iowa, where if you were seventeen but were going to be eighteen for the caucuses, the outreach was enormous. This wasn’t talked about much, but I think it will be a significant bump in the youth voting numbers in November.

It is pretty much accepted that McCain is going to have to battle for the Youth Vote, which he has promised to contest, have you seen that transpiring as of yet?

To a degree. He’s done more to reach out to young voters than Bush had in the previous two elections, let’s put it that way. Just today his campaign launched a Facebook application for young voters to sign up and watch videos from the Straight Talk Express. He’s done quite a bit with new media. He was one of the first candidates to use YOUTUBE and grant interviews to bloggers. But at the end of the day it comes down to what message young people respond to and there is only so much either candidate can do beyond addressing their issues. And they don’t want these candidates to come to campus and talk about legalizing marijuana. They want to be talked to as real voters and earn their respect beyond saying “You are the future” or some other tired refrain, and I think McCain and Obama have done pretty well on that count thus far.

NEXT WEEK: PART II – The Future Of Voting In America

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