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Akron Millennials’ Advice on Engaging Youth in Civic Life

Engaging young people is often something that many in our field know we need to do, but aren’t sure how. So we wanted to share a recent post from the team at the Jefferson Center, an NCDD member organization, in which they share recommendations from Millennials about how local governments can increase young people’s participation. It comes as part of a broader project on engaging Millennials, and we encourage you to read more in the Jefferson Center post below or to find the original here.


JeffersonCenterLogoYoung People Don’t Vote

Young people don’t vote. Millennial turnout at the polls is dismal, especially for local and off-year elections. To be fair, young people have never turned out at the rate of older Americans. But even the turnout gains seen during President Obama’s election in 2008 have eroded, and quickly.

By their own admission, many young voters lack critical information about the relationship between government and the issues they care about most. Many distrust politicians and ignore the majority of candidates who fail to address their priority issues. Many feel government can’t solve the problems they see as most pressing.

We know, however, that young Americans care deeply about their communities, participating in volunteer and service activities at greater rates than older generations. What we don’t know, at least not yet, is how we can leverage that enthusiasm for community and country into more active participation in our democratic political system.

To begin answering that question, we’re exploring Millennial engagement in local elections and civic life with a pilot project in Akron, OH funded by the Knight Foundation. We’re working with major media outlets and student journalists to dive into Millennial perceptions of local government, local politics, and the role they see for themselves in local civic life as they negotiate student debt, underemployment, and more. You can read the first two articles from student journalists online in the Youngstown Vindicator, outlining Millennial priorities, and the Akron Beacon Journal, highlighting young people’s perspective on electoral politics.

We’ve also asked Akron’s Millennials to consider how we might stoke their participation in local civic life and politics more broadly. Their recommendations expressed a desire for a stronger participatory role for young people to help shape their community and their collective future

1. Educate young people about local government and their community.

  • Hire city staff whose principal responsibility is public and youth engagement.
  • Expand volunteer, internship, and mentoring opportunities for students within city government and community organizations.
  • Host mock City Councils in area schools that focus on city issues.

2. Improve City of Akron’s online presence.

  • Web interface encourages active conversation, presents a transparent budget and legislation in clear, accessible language, and highlights opportunities for direct participation.
  • Develop a City of Akron app that includes information about voting, updates on important city information, and reminders of community projects and events.

3. Create opportunities for young people to tangibly impact decision making.

  • Regularly host diverse youth “think tanks” with residents from around Akron to learn about issues and provide input for the City on appropriate courses of action.
  • Allocate a portion of the city budget for projects designed and voted on by young people (participatory budgeting).

We’re committed to working with Akron’s new mayor-elect and City Council to implement these recommendations and provide more support for youth engagement in politics. We’ll continue to share updates as we move forward.

You can find the original version of this Jefferson Center post at www.jefferson-center.org/u4d-akron.

Roshan Bliss on LinkedinRoshan Bliss on Twitter
Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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