Contributed by Natasha Merdad, Catchafire Volunteer
In 2016, Jahnavi Rao had a plan to study classical opera music and perform all around the world. But plans changed when Jahnavi witnessed an election that divided the American nation. Politics around her went from subtle discourse to piercing arguments as her “purple” hometown of Berwyn, Pennsylvania began to roar with condemnations on both sides of the fight. With two years left until she could legally vote, Jahnavi looked to her peers on social media, hoping to find a glimpse of solidarity.
What she found was a flood of young voices expressing rage, triumph, and every point on the political spectrum. It didn’t matter if words were painted red or blue. It mattered that there were words at all, that people her age or older cared about civic matters to begin with. In that moment, Jahnavi had an awakening. Young people like her were understanding more than ever the direct impact of national decision making on each and every one of their lives. As she scrolled through a feed filled with her peers contributing to a national conversation, Jahnavi was inspired to hear the resounding voices of a diverse youth-- a diversity she saw as the ultimate testament to our democracy.
But everything fell short once Jahnavi realized the same passionate voices shared one major flaw: most of them didn’t vote, even if they had the right to.
Thus began Jahnavi’s relentless journey to change the narrative. Her passion for music morphed into a passion to safeguard democracy, and Jahnavi knew her first step was to make change at home. So, she took voter registration packets to the Homecoming Dance and by the end of the night, 85% of her class became registered voters.
What started in 2016 as a high school club in our Founder’s hometown has scaled into a national non-profit organization reaching all 50 states. With nearly 100,000 students already registered, we aim to have 1 million youth registered and actively voting by the year 2024. Young people are ready to be heard, and it’s our job to make it happen.
New Voters was born from the desire to turn passionate youth voices into engaged citizens putting forth their vision for the future at the polls. Research shows that 40% of eligible voters are between ages 18-24. But as of 2018, less than half of this population registered to vote. On top of this, systemic roadblocks like voter suppression, polling misinformation, and education inequality impact voters from low-income communities the worst.
We believe that if we want the youth of America to demand change, we have to give them the right tools to do so. We make voter registration easy by partnering with high schools and colleges across the country to create sustainable plans for engagement within each community. Our unique approach to mentor-mentee relationships gives young people the chance to collaborate and find solutions in any landscape, even virtual ones.
We are drawing on four years of experience in leading the nation’s youth and we’re growing to expand our influence to support every community in need. Above all, we pay homage to our humble inspirations by committing to non-partisanship, as we believe that to amplify every voice is to uphold the true essence of our democracy.