Organization tries to reignite political fervor in local young people

Some of Richmond County's biggest supporters of President Obama met last week to discuss the best way to support his administration. Noticeably absent was the age group that many say put him in office, but local Democrats want to change that.

 

Voters between 18 and 30 cast ballots for Mr. Obama 2-to-1 in November, according to a survey conducted by CIRCLE, a research center that studies youth civic engagement.

To keep the momentum going, local and national party activists agree they need the help of young people and modern technology, said Lowell Greenbaum, chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party.

"It has been the young people who have led the way," Dr. Greenbaum said. "We haven't been successful in having young people involved in the political arena. This is our chance to do that."

Dr. Greenbaum and others met at Democratic Party headquarters to assemble Augusta-area members for Organizing for America, a grass-roots organization that will support the president's agenda.

The Obama administration hopes the organization will influence voters to take action on issues such as health care, education and energy on a local and regional level, said Caroline Ciccone, an Organizing for America spokeswoman.

"President Obama's campaign inspired America, including young people," Ms. Ciccone. "This new generation of activists makes up a significant portion of our supporters and volunteers."

Organizing for America has more than 300 local members, said Terence Dicks, political action chairman of the county's Democratic Party. That number can double with the help of the Internet and youth involvement, he said.

"They've elected their president. They wanted change. Now, they're going to have to be a part of that change," Mr. Dicks said. "I think they're optimistic and want to help, but they need to know what their role is."

One young voter said he understands.

Joey Traina, an Augusta State University sophomore who supported the Obama campaign last year, said he thinks young voters will stay engaged as long as they have issues to engage them. He began supporting the Obama campaign last year through phone canvassing, voter registration drives and petitions on issues important to him.

"The youth don't organize well on their own, so we need events to be a part of," he said.

Young voters also need to be connected to local politics to stay engaged in the political process, said Peter Flanagan, an ASU assistant professor of political science. Mr. Flanagan said many of his students have become disengaged since the election.

"There's been some drop-off, because many of them feel like they've accomplished what they set out to do," he said. "The president will have to reach out to them to get them more involved."

Young voters are still engaged, but they have few opportunities to get involved, said ASU senior Ashley Herlihy. Last year, she worked as a poll worker and participated in rallies during Mr. Obama's campaign.

"I think staying aware is the best way we stay engaged," Ms. Herlihy said. "It was such a huge election, and we're still affected."

Mr. Dicks said the local chapter of Organizing for America has connected with young voters via the group's Web site and Facebook.

The group also plans to network one-on-one with students at local campuses and churches across the Augusta area.

"We're going to give them a role to play," he said. "I know they're energized. I haven't seen the kind of spirit these young people are showing."

Although he didn't attend last week's meeting, Mr. Traina said he plans to help Organizing for America canvass for President Obama's economic plan this weekend. He's also invited a couple of friends to help.

"We support the message. We just haven't been as vocal," he said. "It's up to us to pick up where we left off in November. I know it won't be a one-time thing."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

For more information about the Organizing for America Pledge Canvass to Support President Obama, contact Lowell Greenbaum at (706) 722-8111 or visit www.my.barackobama.com/pledgeprojectcanvass.

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