“Vote or Die!” was the message rapper Puff Daddy delivered during the 2004 presidential elections as he and other celebrities banded together to motivate the youth of America to vote. After extensive media campaigns, nearly half of 18 to 24-year-olds turned out at the polls. This marked an 11 per cent increase from the 2000 election and the highest youth turnout since 1992.
Hoping to increase those numbers in the 2008 election, David Burstein, a Menemsha summer resident who’s entering his sophomore year at Haverford College this fall, decided to act. And while he wasn’t a celebrity or affiliated with any major media outlets, Mr. Burstein didn’t feel intimidated, just determined.
Three years and hundreds of phone calls and interviews later Mr. Burstein has created 18 in ’08, a documentary which screened at the Katharine Cornell Theatre Wednesday evening as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society’s summer film series.
Since its completion last year, the film has screened more than 400 times, and 18 in ’08 has been turned into a nonprofit organization designed to get the youth of America engaged in the political process.
While seated in the theatre before the screening, Mr. Burstein explained how he got started on the ambitious project: “I knew that I could get a camera and edit a film and put it together in this tech savvy, new media age, so I started going around the country talking to senators, congressman, policy makers, students about why young people don’t vote, what can be done to change that.”
18 in ’08 features interviews with influential political figures including Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, political consultant James Carville and ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson. The interviewees stress the importance of exercising the civic duty to vote and offer explanations for the low turnout.
In the film, many college students admitted that they either weren’t registered to vote, never applied for absentee ballots or didn’t make it to the polls. Mr. Burstein believes it’s not apathy that’s to blame for this but rather a feeling of disengagement and frustration in the political process. He says it doesn’t have to stay this way — because the advent of new media will engage more young people in the democratic process.
“I think part of the challenge of getting young people to vote is that politicians are willing to address young people, sometimes they just need to be asked, so I sort of tried to put that into practice,” Mr. Burstein says.
Despite this, many young people feel that their vote just doesn’t count.
“Technically when you look at the mathematical value of one vote, it doesn’t matter,” Mr. Burstein admits. “But if you don’t vote, and there are 100 other people who think that, minus 100 votes makes a difference.” It’s this attitude that 18 in ’08 sets out to change.
“I hope people see this film and want to get involved in the political process and engaged in the big picture. I really hope they’ll come out and vote, but I really hope they’ll take it to the next level and get involved in the political process,” Mr. Burstein says.
This fall 18 in ’08 will hit the road visiting colleges and high schools across the country to educate and register new voters.
“Every screening we do there’s someone who comes up to us and says, ‘I wasn’t voting before and now I’m gonna vote.’”
So far the organization has registered 21,000 people.
For more on the film and the movement, see online 18in08.com. To vote in Massachusetts, you must be registered 20 days before primaries and elections. For a mail-in registration form, call 1-800-462-VOTE. Or go to your town hall or the Registry of Motor Vehicles.