Youth rock the vote  — early

CHICAGO – In an effort to promote participation in the presidential elections, over 100 youth and students came together here Oct. 28 during a Southwest side early voting rally in order to outline an agenda based on issues important to young people.

Manuel Beltran, 20, is the local coordinator with the Youth Voter Collective (YVC) and has helped to register nearly 1,000 young people throughout Chicago. The YVC teamed up with local youth and community leaders in order to turn out the youth vote.

“People say young people don’t care about voting, but that’s not true,” said Beltran. The rally consisted of food, music, break-dancing and speakers and was organized to celebrate youth voting for the first time, said Beltran.

Beltran said immigration reform is an important issue for him. “Whole families are suffering because of the broken system and that’s why it’s important to vote for change,” he said. “It’s also really hard to get a full-time job with benefits right now.”

Beltran said he personally voted for Obama because, “his views are the closest to what I believe.” He hopes Obama wins. “But there will be a lot of work to be done after the election,” noted Beltran.

The YVC is part of a national non-partisan organization of youth activists that has been mobilizing young voters to get involved and promote unity for a post elections youth agenda. Focused on registering and reaching out to historically underrepresented youth in working class neighborhoods and school campuses, the group is made up of young women, people of color and queer youth in all levels of leadership in order to engage the broadest possible participation.

Docia Buffington, 24, is the national organizer with the YVC. She and Beltran mobilized 100 students in Chicago to canvass in festive costumes on the eve of Halloween to remind young people to get out and vote. The non-partisan action is called “Trick or Vote” and is part of a nationwide effort, said Buffington.

“There is a lot at stake for young people in this election, such as young workers’ rights and the fact that wages continue to decrease,” said Buffington. “Young people need security, quality education and college accessibility. We need to see change on all of these issues,” she said. “It’s important that youth vote for the ‘change candidate’ and join the movement growing across the country so that the next president understands what we want that includes more jobs with living wages.”

Buffington added that the current economic crisis has affected youth like everyone else. “Why do we have to pay the consequences of an insecure future created by the greedy mistakes on Wall Street?”

Aquil Charlton, 28, is the executive director of the Crib Collective, a local youth leadership organization that promotes social entrepreneurship. He came to early vote.

“This is more than just a basic obligation,” said Charlton. “I voted to make a contribution in one of the most active and exciting elections ever.” He hopes young people are taken more seriously. He voted for Obama who he says is the strongest candidate.

Criminalization of youth, the war on drugs, education funding, health care coverage and ending the billions spent on the Iraq war are issues important to Charlton. Young people need to stay involved post elections by advocating and lobbying for a youth agenda, he said.

Although Perla Cervantes, 16, is not old enough to vote she said if she could she would vote for Obama, as she did in mock elections at her high school. Violence prevention is a major concern in her neighborhood, she said. “Obama is smart and knowledgeable about what will benefit the majority of working families and our communities and not only the rich that McCain talks about,” she said. “Obama will provide real change including equal opportunities, better resources and education which will become a priority.”

David Cruz, 33, a real estate agent agrees with Cervantes. “I like Obama’s politics and he’s genuine. He’s exactly the change we need,” said Cruz. “I really believe what he says and this is the first time I ever felt that way about a presidential candidate.”

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