Looking back on a year of civic engagement

Blog Post

The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project aims to achieve full participation of young people (aged 18-24) in the democratic process. To wrap up our 2020 program, I wanted to share some final highlights of our non-partisan, peer-to-peer work.

New data from CIRCLE shows that “the most common way young voters heard about the election was not from digital outreach and social media, but from friends, family, and their peers. Nearly two-thirds of youth (ages 18-24) talked to friends about politics, and almost half tried to convince their peers to vote”.

We’re proud that during the 2020 election cycle (including the Georgia runoff), in spite of a pandemic, our student-powered team worked at 200 college campuses to increase the youth vote from 2016 levels and gave thousands of student leaders a crash course in organizing and activism. 

North Carolina students hitting the phones during Election Weekend

November General Election

Preliminary results from the 2020 general election show historic voter turnout, including a predicted 5 to 10 point increase amongst 18-29 year olds from 2016. We are so proud of our student leaders for being part of this historic moment for youth participation. Here are some highlights of our national work: 

  • Over the summer and fall, the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project recruited and trained over 2,000 interns and 3,000 volunteers who led our non-partisan voter registration and turnout campaign.
  • Despite the pandemic, we were able to expand our team of professional organizers to train even more students. This team of over 100 staff worked with students on 200 college campuses, 73 of which are minority-serving institutions or have majority-minority enrollment.
  • In all, our voter education program made 390,000 peer-to-peer GOTV contacts, and ultimately reached at least 2 million students.

We’re successfully building civic engagement infrastructure that can keep turning out students for years to come and get them involved in social change organizing.

Georgia State University students gather before mobilizing young voters

Georgia Runoff

Our work didn’t end on November 3rd. With the Georgia Senate elections headed to runoffs, we continued mobilizing students to make sure their voices were heard and that they would continue to vote safely. 

In Georgia, student leaders working with Georgia PIRG’s New Voters Project worked hard over the last six months to help register, educate, and turn out students to vote in the general election and the Senate runoff election. Georgia is home to over 1.6 million young people who are one of the most economically and racially diverse cohorts in the state. Yet, young people in Georgia, as elsewhere in the country, are historically underrepresented in our democracy.

More than 100 local student interns and volunteers, like Deja and Milu below, were involved in our campaign efforts. From July to January, student organizers worked hard to ensure their peers were able to have their voices heard in the runoff election. Our student leaders focused on peer-to-peer virtual tactics, including phone calls and personalized text messages to turn out the vote.

Deja Mason, an English major and comparative women’s studies minor at Spelman College, has been working with us since July to educate and help register students in the Atlanta area. She helped organize virtual education panels, worked with local media outlets, and educated her peers through Instagram Live. As a Georgia native, she wrote passionately about the importance of the work to turn out young people. Her piece was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Milu Parrilla, a freshman biology, pre-med major at Georgia State University, phonebanked almost every single night, including texting her peers until midnight on the day of the voter registration deadline. She also presented in almost half of our Georgia team’s class presentations. Milu was featured in WhoWhatWhy.org discussing the importance of having a personal message when reaching out to voters.

Here are some of the highlights from our Georgia team: 

  • We reached more than 30,000 young people through phone calls, text messages, class announcements, and email listservs. We were able to more effectively mobilize new voters by making our phone calling and texting efforts as personalized as possible. Our peer-to-peer organizing work was highlighted in outlets including Business Insider and USA Today.
  • Young Georgians made more than 12,000 unique non-partisan get-out-the vote contacts—including personalized reminders and working with students to make a plan to vote. Through this effort we shared important voting resources, like our Young Voter Resource Guide that helped students know what they needed to vote and how to do it safely during a pandemic. We talked to many students who would not have voted if it weren’t for the conversation that our volunteers had over the phone.
Manny Rin, the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project Director, was featured on USA Today’s weekly show, “States of America” where he discussed the impact of the youth vote and the non-partisan work Georgia PIRG students have been doing to turn out their peers

What’s Next?

Students launched Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) in the 1970s to take on the issues students care about and make real progress, looking beyond political labels and using research, organizing, and advocacy to win common-sense solutions. The non-partisan Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project has helped register over 2 million students to vote and made more than 3 million personalized, peer-to-peer GOTV contacts since 1984. That legacy of achievement doesn’t end on Election Day, and there is much more work to do.

Our team is shifting gears to new, timely campaigns to ensure the young leaders we engaged in the fall stay involved and take on even greater levels of leadership. The Student PIRGs will continue organizing virtually in 22 states, including Georgia, to reach students, so they can take on issues they care about, including responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, affordable higher education, food insecurity, and more. Our activist training and recruitment program will have a presence on more than 100 campuses and train thousands of new activists to make a difference in their campus communities.

We’ll need all hands on deck to build the future we need, where our climate is protected and our democracy works for everyone. To get there, we’ll need the energy, idealism, and passion of young activists to lead the way. Our goal is to build a world where young people are full participants in our democracy, have a seat at the table, and are helping to shape policy and win on whatever issues they choose to take on.