Standing before a group of students in the cafeteria of Hostos Community College, Hector Soto pointed to a set of questions around which those assembled would start a conversation. Armed with their cell phones, the students were to start a digital dialogue with others around the country about the upcoming presidential election. The idea, Soto said, was “to create digitally the kinds of conversations that used to happen in barber shops and grocery stores.”
The “talk, text and vote” event was part of a national effort on September 27, National Voter Registration Day, by the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona, which not only wants to engage young voters in political discourse, but also analyze their answers and conversations in order to better understand the concerns and interests of this often mischaracterized demographic.
“Young people need to be involved in the decisions,” said Soto, an assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences. “This is really about engaging people’s consciousness, about civic engagement.”
Lizette Colón, the PSC chapter chair at Hostos, helped organize the event. “Our students are so busy, but there’s so much at stake,” she said as students came by her table to get voter registration cards. “We forget you just have to ask them.”
The PSC chapter, among other campus groups, sponsored a voter registration drive with tables around campus as well as the “talk, text and vote” event.
For PSC members who came out that day to get students signed up and talking about current politics, the effort was clearly a labor issue. “The union can’t just be about contracts and rallies,” she said, noting that political discussions such as these brought people together in a very positive way.
Rupert Phillips, a lecturer in behavioral and social sciences who has been doing voter registration at Hostos since he himself was a student there, said, “The union, historically, and politics go hand in hand.”
Phillips added that he believed it’s important to get young people voting because they are often seen as a low-turnout demographic. “The students should see that their future rests on the choices they make,” he said.
For Soto, the registration and the discussion were only part of a broader plan. As he put it, young people don’t have an organized constituency that forces politicians, both on the local and national level, to listen and address their needs in the way that groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons does.
“The young have to have a voice as powerful as theirs,” he said.