by: Kelsey Santmyer and Laura Weick
Last Friday, the Rhode Island Democratic Party held their monthly Women’s Caucus at the University of Rhode Island in order to address the University’s College Democrats concerns with the lack of young voter engagement.
State Representative Lauren Carson, one of the four co-chairs of the newly formed Women’s Caucus, said, “we were established in Jan. 2017 and have been moving our meetings around the state.”
Friday’s meeting was held at a university campus in the hopes of engaging young registered voters. Carson hopes this meeting will help the Women’s Caucus understand what it will take to really excite students to not only join, but also to stay with an organization like this.
“The Women’s Caucus was an out shoot of the Women’s March in January,” Carson said. “Democratic leaders—men and women—could see that there was a lot of excitement amongst women given the political climate following the election of Donald Trump as president.”
The Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus is part of the Democratic party. Objectives include recruiting and funding candidates that are committed to gender equality, advocate for women’s issues, lobbying and outreach to voters. Female Democratic legislators in the Rhode Island General Assembly lead the caucus, and female registered Democrats can become members. Any Democratic voter that contributes financial can be associate members.
“Our generation votes the least out of any other age demographic, by a lot,” Andy Boardman, president of the URI College Democrats said
“By not voting, we’re really missing an opportunity to make our voices heard,” Boardman said. “Which is why I’m really excited to see the Caucus making an effort to engage young voters to show there is real opportunity for change.”
College Democrats’ Campus & Community Director, Cheyenne Cazeault, lead the discussion on young voter engagement. When asked about obstacles that keep young people, particularly young women, from voting,
“My friends from New Jersey have the hardest time doing their absentee ballots and most students aren’t going home for one day to vote,” Cazeault said. “In Rhode Island, I almost didn’t even vote last year because I had classes.”
While administrative offices are closed for Election Day, classes are held and attendance is required of students and professors, limiting their access to the polls.
“We should be able to have off for election day and improved transportation to polls,” Cazeault said.
Maldonado had also proposed the creation of a diversity subcommittee in the Caucasus during the general meeting.
“What it would do is bring a different perspective on issues that we discuss related to jobs, women’s rights, equity, and the diversity committee would be able take time to look deep in issues that relate to diverse community,” said Maldonado.
The most popular suggestion for lack of voter turnout from young people was lack of enthusiasm in the nation’s political system. However, caucus members and college students disagreed on why millennials were disinterested. Many felt that young people had lost faith in the system.
“If we want to get millennials to the voting booth in November, we need to nominate candidates they support in the primaries. Like any age demographic, millennials will not go out of their way to vote if they are not excited about the candidate choices,” Capri C. a gender & women’s studies major said.
One attendee who worked with millennials talked about what millennials told her when asked why they didn’t vote. “They say, ‘We’re already a blue state, so my vote doesn’t matter.’”
Other Caucus members mentioned how they felt that young people simply didn’t care about politics
The discussion noted how civics education is not prioritized in schools. In order to solve this, the caucus members suggested campus wide teach-ins with nonpartisan speakers to inform students.
“Tell them why it’s going to affect them,” one speaker said. “Like is your interest rate on your student loans going to go down. By throwing names out there is not helping as much as telling them how their rights may be taken away.”
Overall, incorporating URI College Democrats with the Women’s Caucus helped both organizations to generate different approaches to understanding why a majority of college students are not participating in presidential or midterm elections. Moving forward, the Women’s Caucus hopes to engage more young registered voters.
The Rhode Island Democratic party also plans to begin an LGBTQ caucus, a Latino Caucus and the ‘I’m ABLE Caucus’, for party members who are affected by disabilities.
“It’s all about inclusion. That’s what Democrats are all about” said Boardman.