Area children are hoping that their voices carry weight in the upcoming Nov. 8 election. While joining Mayor William Peduto in an online message, 11 students from the Pittsburgh Public Schools participated in the #BeOurVotePgh Campaign, an educational project to promote civic engagement.
“The campaign is titled ‘#BeOurVotePgh’ because the students in the video are not yet old enough to vote, so they’re asking their friends and family to be their voice on Election Day,” said Josh Sayles, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “We want teens to understand the influence they can have on their community by voting once they turn 18, and we want adults to recognize that it is their duty to represent those young people who are not of age to represent themselves at the polls.”
The project, which includes both a 99-second YouTube video and related programming, is a partnership between the Federation’s CRC and Volunteer Center, Pittsburgh Public Schools, the City of Pittsburgh, Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) and private media production company Treehouse Media.
Collaboration began several months ago, said Sayles. “Everybody we talked to was really excited and almost immediately jumped on board.”
Since then various initiatives have occurred.
At a Federation-hosted workshop, members of B-PEP trained approximately 15 student volunteers from the Pittsburgh public high schools how to register citizens without advocating for a particular party or candidate. Then, while attending evening high school football games at George K. Cupples Stadium on the city’s South Side, those students registered adults as well as fellow students who will be eligible first-time voters on Election Day.
The significance of such efforts is noteworthy, remarked Tim Stevens, B-PEP’s chairman and CEO. “There’s a lot at stake, particularly in 2016. Those who choose not to participate are leaving the fate of their children’s education, their healthcare, their neighborhood and their future in the hands of others.”
Continued efforts are scheduled to spark students’ civic interests. On Nov. 4, the Volunteer Center will electronically host a mock election. All students from the Pittsburgh public high schools are eligible to vote on the Volunteer Center’s website.
“We plan not only to track the results by school, but also to parse the data in many ways that campaigns and media often analyze election data, such as gender, race and religion,” explained Amy Cohen, Volunteer Center manager for the Federation. “Our intention is to share that information with social studies and math teachers in Pittsburgh Public Schools so that they are able to teach about the election in the classroom with real data provided by the students themselves.”
Sayles also plans on sharing the information collected.
Many Jewish community relations councils nationwide do election-related programming and Pittsburgh’s model, with its digital message and on-the-ground efforts, can be a “good starting point,” explained Sayles, who plans on reaching out to colleagues in the coming weeks.
“There are dozens and dozens of strong CRCs around the country and a lot of us, including us here in Pittsburgh, are one- or two-person departments, and sharing what we do with each other is incredibly helpful so that we aren’t sitting individually in silos trying to reinvent the wheel,” he added.
While his adult colleagues could learn much from Pittsburgh’s project, students may be the ultimate beneficiaries, said Sayles. “[We hope] they learned a lesson about the importance of civic engagement, and that when they are old enough to vote they will exercise that right.”
“Voting is important not just for civic reasons, but for the reasons that you care about, the reasons of who will represent you in what you believe in,” Peduto said in the online video. “So I’m asking you to make sure to register, and on Election Day, make sure you vote.”
The video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npk1Q7BOI98.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.