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Is Democracy a Verb?

School is back in session and students are learning about nouns & verbs, new mathematical equations, and the periodic table.

And democracy!

At Mikva Challenge DC, we believe that the best way for young people to learn about democracy is to “do democracy!” So even though democracy might not technically be a verb, our back-to-school season will be full of young people engaging in democratic action!

This year, we will be recruiting 25 high school students from across DC to be part of our “Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team.” Through hands-on voter registration, campaign work, and interactions with candidates and elected officials, our Elections in Action Fellowship empowers young people to become informed about and engaged in elections — even before they are old enough to vote.

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In a recent report, The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE,) recommends that we move from a “paradigm focused on merely mobilizing voters, to one centered on Growing Voters.” As the CIRCLE report states, “We don’t automatically become engaged, informed, and empowered to participate in our democracy when we turn 18.”

The report further states, “school clubs, youth organizations, and other extracurricular activities can be important ‘incubators’ of civic behaviors, but depending on their race and ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, young people may have very inequitable access to those opportunities.”

We agree! And that is why Mikva Challenge DC provides opportunities for DC youth – from across every race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and ward – to actively participate in our electoral process even before they reach voting age.

This year, Mikva DC’s Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team will:

  • learn about the history of voting rights and how those rights affect them and their communities,
  • survey their peers about the issues they care about in this Presidential Election,
  • create a Youth Guide to the 2020 candidates, and
  • travel to Iowa to volunteer on a variety of presidential campaigns before the Iowa Caucus.

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Last fall, we launched our Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team with 26 young people to create opportunities for more DC youth to directly participate in the electoral arena of local politics. For example, for a week in October, EIA students canvassed neighborhoods around high schools in NW, NE, and SE Washington, DC knocking door-to-door to register community members to vote. In this process two students discovered that they were old enough to register to vote and did so for the first time. The fall programming culminated with EIA students serving as election poll workers in precincts around the city. Students greeted voters, learned the mechanics of ballot machines, verified voters’ personal information, and instructed voters on how to cast ballots on their full day of work, and in the process saw the electoral process first-hand and up-close. From last year’s Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team, 100% of students felt more knowledgeable about the political process after being part of Mikva DC programs, and 90% want to participate in elections in the future.

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Nationally, 88% of Mikva alumni are registered to vote compared to 53% of their peers, and 77% of Mikva alumni believe they have a responsibility to be involved in solving community issues, compared to 36% before the program.

Want to get involved in this project to make “democracy a verb” for DC youth? Here’s how you can help…

  • If you know of a high school student in DC who would be interested in this unique leadership program, please reach out to Voncia Monchais at voncia@mikvachallenge.org.
  • We are always looking for guest speakers from the political world to come meet with our students. If you, or someone you know, has a job in politics, and would be willing to talk with our students about your work, contact Voncia at voncia@mikvachallenge.org.
  • Have other ideas about ways to support Mikva DC’s Elections in Action Youth Fellows? Reach our Mikva DC’s Executive Director, Robyn Lingo, at robyn@mikvachallenge.org to share your thoughts.

Help us “grow” a new generation of informed, empowered & active civic leaders!

This post was written by Mikva Challenge DC, a Catalogue nonprofit partner

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