#VoteYourPower: A New Generation Takes on Election 2016

George Washington University hosts NBCWashington’s panel discussion on issues that concern millennials.

Vote Your Power
Panelists for the discussion (left to right): Shermichael Singleton, KellyAnn Kirkpatrick, Darius Baxter, Kathleen Hunt and moderator Aaron Gilchrist. (William Atkins/GW Today)
November 04, 2016

By B. L. Wilson

A week before elections, millennials filed into Lisner Auditorium for  #VoteYourPower, a panel discussion hosted by NBC4 Washington in conjunction with Rock the Vote.

The event on Tuesday was the brainchild of Brittany Johnson, the station’s social media director.

“It’s important for millennials to have a voice and to have a platform that’s going to allow their voice to be echoed, not only in the D.C. area but throughout the country,” Ms. Johnson said.

More than 100 people attended the even in person at Lisner—and thousands more participated via Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, according to the organizers.

Aaron Gilchrist, co-anchor of the daily morning news show on NBCWashington, moderated the discussion. Right away, he asked the audience for a show of hands of those who had already decided for whom they would cast votes on Nov. 8.  Most hands went up.

This will be the first time voting for many millennials. However, surveys by Pew Research Center suggest it will hard to determine how many of them will actually go to the polls.

The panel featured Kathleen Hunt, a George Washington University senior journalism and mass communications major; Darius Baxter, cofounder of GoodPartners, an organization that works to bring opportunities to disadvantaged communities; KellyAnn Kirkpatrick, the Luma Lab educator for Clearly Innovative, which works to expose youth in underserved areas to technology and entrepreneurship; and Shermichael Singleton, a political consultant who has worked on the campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ben Carson.

None of them were optimistic about millennials’ turnout for this election, mainly because they say they don’t hear the candidates of the two major parties talking about the critical issues that concern them.

The top three issues for millennials, the panelists agreed, are student loan debt, access to higher education and jobs or the economy.

Ms. Hunt said that on the GW campus, which is recognized as one of the most politically active in the country, students are frustrated with what they’re hearing this election.

Both major party candidates have plans to address paying back student debt, Ms. Hunt said, with Donald Trump’s coming just last week. “I wonder to what extent millennials are listening,” she said. “Maybe they are tired of the rhetoric or have reached the saturation point.”

Ms. Kirkpatrick said millennials are listening to the candidates.

“But [the candidates] are not talking about how serious this matter is, the way that it is impacting us not only in carrying this mountain of debt,” she said, “but also how it affects our buying a home, marrying and having children and doing the things our parents told us should be a part of the American dream.”

And that, in turn, said Mr. Baxter, has led to many millennials not being “pro” any candidate. “You have some who are not voting, and some who are voting because ‘I don’t want this candidate to win,’” he said.

 Mr. Gilchrest, the moderator, asked a simple question: “How can candidates reach younger voters?”

Encouraging millennials to run for office, improving and using a wider variety of media and educating millennials to understand issues that affect them were all suggestions for mobilizing millennials to vote.

Ms. Hunt said that it is important to remember that there are races other than for the White House on ballots. “You need to continue to show up, if you want our issues taken seriously,” she said. “If you want to change the establishment, you have to work from within the system.”

One person during an exchange with the audience that followed commented that joining the establishment doesn’t actually change the system. The audience applauded.


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