Mitzvotes & Mitzvahs
Let’s face it - students in college and those who have just graduated, don’t have the greatest record on voter participation.
Many believe that Millennials don’t vote because they are lazy, entitled, and selfish. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This generation cares deeply about social justice issues and has activism in their DNA. Millennials (ages 22-37-year olds) and Post-Millennials or “Deltas,” (born mid-1990s to mid-2000), have redefined what our society values today.
The youngest of these Millenials are the last to remember September 11, 2001. They were some of the first students to go through school typing, rather than writing by hand. High School students are now lobbying for gun control. Young women have taken hold of the #MeToo movement and are fighting against sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.
So, if Millennials care about social issues, but they are not voting, or registering to vote, then what’s the problem?
It started when the oldest of the Millennials voted for the first time in 2000, during the Bush vs. Gore election. The winner of the Presidential election hinged on a manual recount of several counties’ votes in Florida. A Supreme Court decision halted the recount and announced a winner with only a lead of 327 votes, out of millions. Some of these new voters walked away from that election disenchanted.
Millennials and Deltas are the most marginalized generations; they are more diverse and fluid in their identities. As a result, more Millennials and Deltas face marginalization and disenfranchisement than what other generations have experienced.
In 2014, 18-20-year-olds set a record low turnout at the polls. In the 2016 primary and general elections, access to voting was a significant issue for college students. Students either skipped class to vote or skipped voting to go to class. And for Millenials who are less likely to own a car than previous generations, getting to the polls created another barrier.
According to Jewish Law, we believe it is our civic responsibility to participate in voting. In the Jewish religion, the act of ‘counting’ is entwined with our faith. We count the days between Passover and Shavuot. We count 100 blessings each day, we count the Shofar blasts, and we count the number of people who constitute a Minyan. The act of counting is not as important as “being” counted; being a part of something, participating in something. The action of having your opinion counted is considered a Mitzvah.
To help remedy the issue of young voter apathy, Hillel International is leading a coalition called MitzVote. MitzVote is a non-partisan campaign that wants to create a positive experience for students participating in the democratic process. “Giving college students an opportunity to become engaged citizens, just as B'nai Mitzvot recognizes young Jews as adults in the Jewish community.” The goal of the campaign is to engage over 100,000 voters, on 100 college campuses. They will engage them through registration drives, poll parties, and exciting events to mobilize young voters.
UF Hillel enthusiastically became an ambassador campus. UF Hillel held a “Chomp the Vote” Shabbat to get students to register to, and that is just the beginning. Over the course of the next few weeks, UF Hillel will be encouraging voter registration and participation up until the Florida general election by featuring computers for students to register to vote at events and by promoting voter registration and voting on social media.
According to Emily Snider, “Our mission is to amplify Jewish student voices. We believe encouraging students to register to vote and participate in a democratic election personifies why we do what we do.”
Mrs. Snider goes on to say “Our goal is not to push an agenda to one party or another, only to show our students that their voices and opinions matter. The ability to be heard and have a government that reflects their values and needs has been fought for, for generations.” “Students need to understand that voting is their duty. They will choose who should make decisions on their behalf affecting citizens today and well into the future. By not voting they are choosing to remain silent on these matters.”
Mrs. Snider concludes, ”I hope that by UF Hillel participating in the MitzVote campaign, it will begin to heal the feelings of disenfranchisement, address the concerns of accessibility to vote, and continue to teach students that their voices matter.”
This year at the University of Florida, because of a lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, The J. Wayne Reitz Union will be used for early voting during the 2018 general election, October 22 thru November 3. The Reitz Union will be open to students, school employees and voters unaffiliated with UF.
The UF Hillel team hopes that by having a polling center in the heart of the campus, students will be encouraged to vote as some of the accessibility concerns have been addressed.
If our society wants to see a change in young voter participation, we need to value this generation’s opinions. We must encourage their participation, rather than labeling them as apathetic when they find that society marginalizes their views.
The Torah explains it best by teaching us to judge our neighbor fairly and to love our neighbor as you would yourself.
About UF Hillel
The University of Florida Hillel is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that inspires future Jewish leaders to positively impact the world by connecting them with unique experiences, doing good, career advancement and emotional well-being. UF Hillel has transformed the Hillel model to make Judaism relevant for 18 to 26-year-olds and maximize Jewish engagement, Israel advocacy, and leadership for disconnected college students. UF Hillel programs include UF Birthright to Israel, Career Up Now and The Selling Factory. To learn more about UF Hillel, visit UFHillel.org