Co-written by: Sabrina Brogniart & Saniya Han
IGNITE hosted the Young Women Vote Virtual Summit to educate young voters on effective voter engagement strategies for upcoming elections. IGNITE alumna who have ran — or are currently running — for elected office spoke about their experiences and advised the audience on how to encourage civic participation from their peers. The keynote speakers for this event were Congresswoman Susan Brooks (5th District of Indiana), Valerie B. Jarrett (Senior Distinguished Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School), and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (14th District of Illinois). Panelists included Christina Haswood (Candidate for Kansas House District 10), Mya Whitaker (Program Director for the Bay Area Urban Debate Leader), and Karla Garcia (Dallas ISD District 4 Trustee). The event was moderated by Johanna Mayer-Jones, (SVP Partnerships at The ATLANTIC).
Sara Guillermo, the executive director of IGNITE, opened the event by describing the importance of engaging youth voters. Guillermo stated that IGNITE intended for the Summit to help young people, specifically Gen Z women, to realize their potential in determining the results of elections and enacting change through voting.
The keynote addressee, Congresswoman Susan Brooks followed by speaking about her professional experience and how she was elected to Congress. Congresswoman Brooks advised the audience to engage in the voting process by working the polls, spreading information through social media, and taking the time to vote. She also stressed the importance of young people expressing their concerns by interacting with elected officials. During Congresswoman Brooks’ Q&A session, she described the various obstacles she faced as a woman running for office. Through all the doubt and struggle, she spoke about her perseverance and the support she received from a strong support system.
In the next segment of the summit, the “Power of Your Vote” Panel, Moderator Johanna Mayer-Jones introduced panelists Christina Haswood, Mya Whitaker, and Karla Garcia, who gave the audience advice on voting and working in public service. The panelists emphasized that building relationships with voters will mobilize and empower them, making significant differences in voter turnout and election results. Having grown up in Dallas, Texas, Karla Garcia described her first-hand experiences with low voter turnout and voter apathy. As a result of those experiences, Garcia vowed that she would work towards a solution for low voter turnout, so she focused her campaign on the power of the vote and strived to reach out to ‘non-voters’. Like Garcia, Christina Haswood interacted with voters through social media regularly to hear their concerns. Mya Whitaker stressed that candidates and public service officers should always strive to understand the needs of their constituents.
The next keynote speaker, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood answered questions about the upcoming election in her Q&A session. She pointed out that because the 2020 elections include local, state, and federal ballots, voters have the power to truly make themselves heard. Underwood encouraged the audience to use early vote ballot requests by mail or online, and recommended that voters set calendar notifications for election days, research the ballots, and meet candidates if possible.
Valerie Jarrett, along with IGNITE NYC Fellow Alicia Smith, transitioned into a conversation about accessible voting. They spoke about how voters need to educate themselves and their peers on various issues and candidates to make informed decisions. During the Q&A, they described how young voters can fight against the decreasing number of polling sites by pressuring local commissions and volunteering at polling stations in place of older folks who may be more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. They provided guidance and resources for the mail-in ballot process (visit ignitenational.org/vote2020 for your state-specific voting plan) and suggested that more accessible online voter registration as well as time off with pay will make the voting process much easier.
IGNITE’s Closing Call to Action focused on using the internet and social media as organizing platforms. Speakers emphasized the power of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in building community and connecting constituents and voters from all over. Tips on how candidates can use their public pages to connect with voters and their constituents included using hashtags, streaming on Facebook Live, and posting updates to their feed often. To conclude, young social media influencers from around the country spoke on their work and experiences with using social media as advocacy platforms. Maya Siegel (@maya.siegel), Francesca Reale (@francescareale), and Chelsea Miller (@thechelseamiller) described how they use Twitter and Instagram to converse with their followers after educating themselves on various issues and causes. Siegel encouraged other influencers to amplify their followers’ voices by advocating their causes even if they are not personal.