Millennials have the opportunity to decide the fate of every race in New Orleans. In a city with 100,000 young people, where mayoral races usually take 30,000 votes to win, millennial voters can make the difference between a win and a loss.
In 2015, Noa Elliot felt triumphant when her first vote helped elect Gov. John Bel Edwards. At 19 years old, she “felt great and was shocked” to vote in a “more progressive voice for Louisiana.” Noa is a millennial helping to start a pattern of increased voting that will turn how campaigns run.
Millennials are the future, but the numbers suggest that, if millennial turn-out exceeded 50%, our generation would be politically unstoppable in New Orleans. Our political system does not reflect our values, but it has the capacity to. Young people can and will decide the priorities of our communities by electing leaders who care about our needs and then holding them accountable.
When the tides turn and millennials take power through political engagement, a more tolerant, informed, and empathetic world will emerge. Millennials exist in that political space and will be able to champion causes from a timeframe that cannot be matched, creating the world of tomorrow in which they want to live and thrive.
In a representative democracy, we the citizens have the power to decide who leads us. We give leaders we trust the responsibility to make political decisions that represent our best interests. Voting measures public opinion and gives legitimacy to the leaders we elect. In a perfect world, everyone would be informed, engaged, and voting for competent candidates that represent their values. When a mistake is made and representatives fail to serve the public, they can be voted out by the same people who voted them in. This is the beauty of a representative democracy, allowing citizens to pursue day-to-day lives while giving trusted public servants the right to make tough and complicated decisions on their behalf.
However, our representative democracy is failing young people, because young people are failing to participate.
Millennials make up 100,000 citizens in New Orleans, a city that has taken about 30,000 votes to win elections for mayor. All told, millennials comprise more than a third of the entire electorate, and only a third of young people need to vote to exclusively decide the direction of the city. But we never do. The failure to implement simple improvements like automatic registration or same-day registration depresses the vote. The failure of politicians to engage with young people gives millennials no reason to vote. A belief that votes do not matter pervades the country, making voting seem like a waste of time.
The fact that millennials do not vote is a double-edged sword. It’s a sad indicator of how our democracy is failing its people today and, ironically, a beacon of hope for the direction of New Orleans. Low turnout means there is substantial room for growth, allowing millennials to increase their influence in elections.
When barriers to voting come down, a third of millennials voting and deciding elections will become the electoral reality politicians face. Speeding up that process is the goal of the MoVE Initiative.
The Millennial Voter Engagement (MoVe) Initiative is working to engage 18-35 year olds in the city. Our priorities are public safety and gun violence, economic growth and jobs, healthcare, liveable wages, and K-12 Education. We are young people coming together to help determine the future of New Orleans. Our plan is to develop a platform, engage candidates, and hold leaders accountable while informing them about the needs of millennials.
Clarke Perkins, a New Orleans native and MoVE initiative co-founder, votes in every election. “When a candidate I vote for wins, I feel like I’ve been a part of something bigger. I vote because I think it’s important; it’s my responsibility to choose someone that will represent me,” she explained. Her commitment to voting is not shared by millennials today, but she believes it will become the norm of tomorrow.
When millennials vote, we will hold the key to political power. Hope and change inspired an electorate once before. A political revolution nearly flipped a party on its head. Millennials can create a better path when inspired to vote.
Grassroots efforts to increase turnout will make decisive for every candidate. Making the economy work for the people, decreasing violence, responsibly improving public safety, and equitably addressing criminal justice reform will be a requirement.
Not every vote from Clarke or Noa led to victory. But they’ve engaged in elections, forming a base that can expand and allow millennials to control the political environment. The tide of electoral politics is changing.
With 100,000 millennials in a city that only requires 30,000 votes to win a mayoral election, we have the power at our fingertips. We only have to grasp the voting lever to use it.
Bobby Mannis is a founder of the MoVE Initiative, which is working to engage more young people in the political process and currently focused on the upcoming mayoral race. You can learn a little more about the organization at ourownpaths.com.