Local group promotes youth political engagement

by Camille Wick – Staff Writer – [email protected]
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, based out of Tufts University, released a study on Aug. 23 entitled, “That’s Not Democracy,” discussing the unbalanced civic engagement levels among young Americans.
The study found 40 percent of 18-29 year olds have no college experience, which does not comply with the tactics of campaigns and organizations focusing exclusively on college campus outreach.

League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County 2012 board members in Asheville this summer.

“Our overriding goal is to improve and increase citizen participation in our government,” said Karen Oelschlaeger, president of the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County.
The LWV is a nonpartisan political organization, which means it takes positions on issues, but neither supports nor opposes any political party or candidate, according to the League’s website.
“Voting is a great first step to being involved, and we encourage everyone to learn about all races on the ballot, not just the presidential race,” Oelschlaeger said.
The LWV attempts to reach college-aged individuals both on and off campus.
The goals of the LWV are voter education, citizen engagement and effective advocating for good government policies, Oelschlaeger said.
The League of Women Voters Education Fund is funding and conducting a 2012 Youth Voter Registration project that aims to reach the underrepresented group highlighted in CIRCLE’s study.
The LWVEF is excited for the opportunity to reach America’s future voters while they are still in high school or attending community colleges or alternative/vocational schools that have often been left out of youth registration efforts, Oelschlaeger said.
Other recent studies provided information on the correlation between civic engagement and education levels.
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute conducts an annual test to determine Americans’ civic literacy and the effect college has on an individual’s civic engagement.
“A college education exerts zero influence one way or another on encouraging graduates to become actively engaged in more consequential aspects of the political process,” according to the ISI website.
Based on ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board’s findings, greater civic knowledge is more effective than a college degree in producing active civic engagement.
“It’s kind of scary to learn those facts about Americans in general and their lack of involvement in politics and government,” said 25-year-old Asheville resident Abby Wood. “It’s going to take a lot of effort from individuals and organizations to change the general outlook on politics.”
While the ISI findings prove a college degree does not necessarily increase civic engagement, efforts from organizations like the LWV provide alternative avenues for reaching individuals.
There are other organizations in the Asheville area promoting civic engagement, including HeadCount.
“HeadCount is a grassroots organization that uses the power of music to register voters and raise political consciousness,” according to the HeadCount website. “We reach young people and music fans where they are – at concerts and online – to inform and empower.”
Organizations like LWV and HeadCount attempt to connect with individuals in order to increase civic engagement among the underrepresented groups that may be overlooked by other organizations.