In October, President Obama's re-election campaign launched the Greater Together initiative to rekindle the connection with young voters that helped fuel his successful bid in 2008, when he captured two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds who voted.
Greater Together is reaching out to young Americans via Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. It's also targeting students on colleges and universities in key states. The program was launched at the University of Pennsylvania with a live Twitter feed and 84 participating colleges and universities across the country.
How's it going so far? The Root caught up with Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, the re-election campaign's national youth-vote director, to find out.
The Root: How are young Americans sharing their concerns with you?
Valeisha Butterfield-Jones: In several ways: We have a website that we are making more robust, which serves as a platform to interact with young people. Our plan is to replicate the program [that's] at the University of Pennsylvania and to have summits at colleges and universities throughout the country, including HBCUs. As a proud graduate of Clark-Atlanta University, I understand the importance of including HBCUs in the overall strategy of reaching young voters.
We always want to make sure that young people have direct access to us. Through our digital strategy and digital program, we'll be able to find people that may not normally be involved in the political process. We want to make sure we're not talking at young people — that instead we're talking with them.
TR: What issues are they telling you matter most to them?
VBJ: They are focused on education. Jobs are a priority, as are health care and school funding. It was great to hear and see how young people are interested in their futures. Young Americans are definitely thinking beyond today and focusing on tomorrow, which is promising.
TR: How are you planning to address the apathy that some young people are feeling because of the economy and unemployment?
VBJ: We haven't seen apathy from those who are involved in the Greater Together initiative. In fact, what we're seeing on the ground is enthusiasm and young people looking to help restore the economy. We had more than 14,000 people sign up to be summer organizers this year, more than in 2008. We have fall fellows at colleges and universities across the country.
We're finding that peer-to-peer communication is critical to reminding young Americans that this is a president who cares about them and has done a lot for them. Young people have conversations with each other about these issues and, more importantly, what can be done if he is elected again in this next presidential election.
TR: Why should people get involved with Greater Together?
VBJ: First and foremost, young people have a stake in this election, so why not take advantage of an opportunity to make a difference today and for future generations to come?
This is a cool, innovative and forward-thinking campaign that cares about the issues that affect young Americans. They have the chance to support a president that really believes in them and to be part of a community that believes in our president. The Greater Together initiative gives young people the opportunity to have the issues they want addressed if he is elected to another term over the next four years.
Nsenga Burton is editor-at-large for The Root.