The following is the second post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN member Brendan Keating.
I joined the League at a time in my life where I had been incredibly disillusioned by national politics. Years earlier, I had finished my B.A. in Political Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and was active in party politics. Over the years that followed I grew increasingly tired of partisan deadlock that was pervasive in national politics. I took a break from the news, and felt like I needed to recharge my batteries. I wanted to make a difference, but it was a time when it felt like there wasn’t much of a difference to be made.
Fast forward a few years, and through an old friend, I was invited to join the LWVNJ Young People’s Network. I was finally excited again to be doing something that was going to make a difference, but I wasn’t quite sure how that would manifest itself yet. My first League event was speaking on a panel about engaging younger voters. Little did I know how important that mission was going to become over the next couple of years.
A couple of months after the Young Voter Engagement Panel, I became involved in an environmental struggle that was threatening my community. As part of an effort to become more effective as an activist, I signed up to take the League’s Lobby Corps Training with Sandy Matsen. The skills that I learned there, and more importantly the confidence that I gained, allowed me to become a very effective environmental activist and inspired me to teach those skills to others.
I started to think about how the League could help young people. I saw my generation doing 90% of the hard part by showing up to protests and letting their voices be heard, but they were neglecting the harder 10% which is the follow through to results. It was then that I realized that there was no better group in the country to teach people who are not involved in the system to work with and within the system for the change that they cared about.
Where else can you go to be intimately involved with politics if you don’t want to get involved with a party or are disillusioned by party politics? The League was established to help people that had never been part of the political process learn how the system worked so that they could affect positive changes in their lives and their communities. What is more American than that? No matter your issue, there is a home here for you in the League. We are here to support one another and mentor one another in producing change, whether that is getting a stop sign put in on a dangerous intersection or advocating for fiscal or social policy on the state or federal levels.
Having come to this grand realization, I worked with League leadership, current and former board members, fellow YPN members, and local Leagues around the state to drum up support for a League sponsored College Outreach Program. We decided that the tool we would use to reach out to college aged adults was the League’s Lobby Corps training but adapted for a younger audience. The program has been a great success! In our first year of the program, YPN Members Nadia Hussain, Casey Olesko, Stacey Faella and Nicole Scott-Harris have taught the League’s Citizen Lobby training at Rutgers New Brunswick (2 times), Rutgers Newark (2 times) and Rider University (2 times). Through the program we have made fantastic contacts with professors and students while expanding the League’s brand of non-partisan activism to a new generation.
The students liked that we weren’t trying to push a particular point of view, and that all we wanted to was give them the tools to advocate for whatever they were interested in. We believe that in addition to signing up new voters, we should focus on creating active citizens when we can. I believe that if I can teach someone civic self efficacy, we will create a lifelong voter and educated participant. And what greater way to honor the great women and men that came before us than to bring a new generation of young people, who don’t participate civically (for whatever reason), into a place where they feel that they can effect positive changes in their world by getting involved. Its a labor of love, and it is why I’m a proud member of the League of Women Voters of NJ.