By ADINA YOUNG
Black Youth Vote is a D.C.-based movement that empowers young black voters
Justin Ajose, 23, of Washington, D.C., is an African American graduate student at American University who has never voted in an election before. But there are plenty of issues that are important to him.
“I just registered when I got my license renewed on my birthday, July 19,” said Ajose who said he never felt compelled to vote. “However, being interrogated by my friends about becoming a registered voter and the importance of it would behoove me to at least become a registered voter and consider voting.”
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, there was a surge in overall youth voting in the 2004 election, in part because of the 11 percent increase in young African American voters. During the 2004 elections, African Americans overall had the greatest increase in voter turnout than any other ethnic minority group.
Still, less than half of young African Americans view voting as important, according to a study conducted by the center.
Ajose, who has been interning for the U.S. Department of State since his senior year of high school, said that among the issues he finds important is the war in Iraq.
“The reason why we are in Iraq, who really knows?” Ajose said. “We don’t really know because the information we get is limited and it’s so secretive. It’s presented to us as solid information but we don’t get fair and balanced information; we don’t get the facts about everything.”
According to Dr. David Boisitis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, young people, in general, do not feel that their issues are being addressed by candidates. This is one of the reasons they do not vote, he said. The other two reasons are that young people may not be settled into a particular community where they have a job or are married, and they are at a stage in life where other things are more important to them than politics.
Boisitis said the economy, employment, health care and education are among the top issues for African Americans but that the war is the most important basic issue for this community.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, 85 percent of African Americans say the war was a mistake.
“African Americans have been against the war more than anyone else in the country,” said Boisitis. “They saw some of it as a colonial war for Iraqi soil and African Americans are much more sensitive to that.”
Yaa Asantewaa Bandele, 26, a registered voter and Washington, D.C., native, said that it is time for a political candidate who brings change, like Mayor Adrian Fenty has done in the District.
“I would like to see some time and effort put into the rehabilitation and education systems,” Bandele said. “I am very proud of Fenty. [He] said that he was going to fix the schools and they are out there fixing the schools. You ain’t never seen [nothing] like that.”
According to Project Vote Smart’s “Analysis of Impacts” in 2002, younger people ages 18 to 24 are less likely to get involved in the election process because the campaigning does not reach out to their demographics. Project Vote Smart is an organization consisting mostly of non-partisan volunteers, who research political candidates’ backgrounds and where they stand on issues.
Jordan Thierry, 24, interim coordinator of the Black Youth Vote movement, an organization that focuses on getting young African Americans engaged in politics, said issues such as the prison population and education are important to him, but he has not heard many of the candidates talk about these issues.
Every candidate in the election has talked about education; however, of all the candidates for the 2008 election, only one, Sen. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, mentioned anything about the prison population, where he said something needed to be done to decrease the number of that population.
“I have not really been following the Republican candidates,” said Thierry, a Howard University film student. “As far as the Democratic candidates, I have not seen much of a new discussion except for maybe the war in Iraq.”
Evelyn Gardett, 24, a white student from Arlington, Va., said that she believes that issues, such as immigration and health care, that are important to her are also important to young African Americans.
“I assume we have the same kind of issues,” said Gardett, who is not a registered voter. “Especially those who have the same kind of background I do.”
According to Dr. Michael Fauntroy, professor of public policy at George Mason University, the country, across all races and ethnicities, has been united against the war in Iraq; however, young African American and Caucasians do not find most of the same issues important because of economics.
“African Americans are not situated in terms of generational wealth like their counterparts are,” said Fauntroy, author of “Republicans and the Black Vote”, which outlines the history of African Americans changing from Republican voters to Democratic voters.
Some politicians are taking steps to reach out to the African-American community.
According to Charles Allen, chief of staff to D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells, Wells has done a number of things during his campaign and currently to reach out to the young African American constituency.
Wells recently endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for the Democratic primaries. Wells also went door-to-door to every neighborhood in Ward 6. According to Allen, Wells feels that by getting young people involved and engaged in politics, they are more likely to vote and continue to vote.
“Part of the way he got both young people and African American people was by inviting them to become part of his campaign; not just someone who comes out and votes,” said Allen.
Nyree Neil, 30, a convention services manager, is an African American woman from Boston who said that America is a great place to live but does not feel that African Americans are given the same opportunities as whites.
“Deep down inside, I am an American and I would love to see this country prosper and I love the freedoms that I have here,” Neil said enthusiastically. “But it’s just not being represented as far as I can see. This country was founded on freedom for all, justice for all. For some populations in the United States, that’s a reality, but not for my people.”