by Mark Van Streefkerk
Members of Coyote Central’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) prove it’s never too early for young people to talk about voting. YAB’s VOTE Project is a youth-led voting awareness initiative and Instagram platform for youth speakers to share their reasons for voting. If unable to vote, they talk about why the election matters to them and encourage others to get involved. In addition to their Instagram account, YAB has released pins, stickers, magnets, and posters to encourage voting, the sales of which provide small stipends to youth speakers and support YAB.
Coyote Central is a nonprofit arts organization for young people ages 10–15 with an emphasis on equity, access, and student-led initiative. The VOTE Project is another important way Coyote amplifies youth voices and is the first time the organization has raised voter awareness around a specific election.
YAB member Jessi Martínez-Andres said, “I see things like police brutality or pollution and I start to feel a little hopeless. I’m not old enough to vote — what can I do? I feel like I can’t do anything because I’m so young, [but] that’s not true. You can get out there, get involved even if it’s not by voting. You can talk to adults: ‘Have you voted yet?’ That can make a significant impact in your community.”
Towards the end of summer, YAB members split into two teams. One team came up with interview questions and connected with youth speakers, asking why voting is important to them and their communities. The brief interviews and video clips were uploaded to YAB’s Instagram account. Coyote’s Program and Engagement Manager and YAB advisor bryn mooney said, “Some of the questions the team came up with were ‘Do you think people who are incarcerated should have the right to vote? What do you think about mail-in voting?’ Young people could speak to whichever question they felt passionate about.”
The second team created swag, pins, stickers, and a poster to raise voting awareness which they started selling at the end of September. Merch sales fund a small stipend for each youth speaker, incentivizing their input, with the remainder going to fund ongoing YAB projects. The process of designing the merch itself was a practice in democracy. YAB met for regular meetings and voted on member submissions for color palate, slogan, and design. The retro style and color theme they selected was intentionally nonpartisan. So far, sales have totaled over $400.
For young people who are unable to vote, Martínez-Andres said there are plenty of ways to get involved politically. They referenced the Children’s March in June and future plans for Youth Advocates For Systemic Change, an initiative still in the works. As a starting point, she suggested “Reading about issues, find[ing] what you’re passionate about. Get involved in your community by talking to people. Talk to people who know about the subject you’re interested in. If it’s an adult or a friend or a teacher, reach out to them [and] ask them ‘How can I help with this?’”
For people who can vote, Martinez-Andres urges, “Vote! Vote! Vote! Honestly, there is nothing more important. You might just think ‘Oh, it’s only one voice — what does it matter?’ Yes, it matters. One hundred percent it matters. Use your voice for what you believe in.”
So far, 60.8% of ballots in Washington state have been received. At the same time in the 2016 presidential election, only 17.9% of ballots had been received, according to the Secretary of State.
You can buy VOTE Projectswag directly through mooney at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through PayPal. On the PayPal site, type email@example.com as the pay recipient, enter the donation you’d like to make, and type your merch order and mailing info in the Notes section. YAB wants merch to be available to all, but suggested donations are $3–$5 for a sticker or magnet, $5 for a poster, and $5–$10 for a pin.
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Pin designed as part of YAB’s VOTE Project to increase awareness and encourage youth involvement in voting. (Photo by bryn mooney)
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