Voting is Only Step One

No matter who you vote for, chances are that if you are between 18 and 35 years old, on November 9th, you'll be forgotten by your candidate. Unless something changes.

Every political candidate, presidential or not, needs young people to win. And they're right to want us. There are about 80 million Millennials, and this year marks the first election which will see more eligible Millennial voters than Baby Boomer voters. Campaigns target Millennials and cross their fingers that even a percentage of the young people they recruited turn up on Election Day. To win, candidates need us.

Huge sums of money get pumped into registering young voters, and foundations and individual donors support things like Rock the Vote. Earlier this week, environmentalist and philanthropist Tom Steyer announced a $25M plan to register young voters concerned about climate change. Getting young people to vote is a good thing. Voter registration and Get Out The Vote campaigns are a needed reminder for disenfranchised young people that politics influence every aspect of our present and future lives, whether or not we choose to participate. So why not participate? On November 8th, campaigns and voter registration initiatives will pray that all of their work has paid off. But then what?

What happens after November 8th?

What happens after all the political energy cultivated among Millennials transfers into the ballot box via Election Day osmosis?

On November 9th we'll all go back to our lives as the first American generation predicted to be worse off economically than our parents. At the same time we turn away from politics, companies, unions and America's wealthiest will go back to spending $8M a day to capture the attention of those we elect, and to ensure that politicians push their agendas forward, crossing our problems--the ones we so desperately need to be fixed--off of political to do list.

Although the fate of politicians may change on Election Day, policies themselves do not. Politics happen between elections and decisions that affect our lives are made every day. I am not suggesting voting does not matter. Of course voting matters --voting is what gets people elected--so vote for whomever you want, but our responsibility does not end when we vote. Unfortunately, however, our capacity to stay engaged in politics usually does end there, and with it, our ability to hold those we vote for accountable.

We need to find a way to hold those we elect accountable and focused on creating the future we want, not the future that corporate lobbyists and special interest groups want. I would propose a law mandating that Congressional members wear blinders when they walk the halls, but I'm not particularly confident that would pass. Instead, I propose we get our own lobbyists to fight for us every day.

Don't be turned off by the word "lobbying." I know it can be scary and conjure images of old white men sitting in dimly lit rooms talking politics, but that's old lobbying. New lobbying gives young people tools to directly engage with those speaking on their behalf (i.e. lobbyists) and elected officials. Imagine if a lobbyist live streamed their conversation with a congresswoman, and all her constituents could participate in the discussion.

Voting is the most powerful tool we have when talking about changing politicians and political ideologies. But if we're talking about getting what we want, being able to keep elected officials focused on our priorities might be the real winner. It would be like getting to vote every day, and I can think of nothing better.

Ben Brown is the Founder of Association of Young Americans, a lobbying organization that works on behalf of young Americans. A version of this post originally appeared on AYA's blog.