Making Politics Accessible: C&S Fellow Hosts Voter Education Events
November 28, 2022
C&S Fellow Farhan Babur, a 2022 recipient of the Civic Spring Fellowship, spent this past midterm election season hosting voter education events in his Scottsdale, Arizona Community. He gathered candidates from state and local elections together with community members for conversation and discussion of the key issues.
C&S: What inspired you to tackle voter education?
Farhan: I really believe in the power of meeting face-to-face. I think getting face time with someone is infinitely better than reading about them. And so when I started proposing voter education—I had initially proposed something around gathering and sharing nonpartisan candidate information for 2022—but then I realized that the best way to get information about candidates to people is to let them meet the candidates. And so then it transformed from a purely informative thing to something about creating an experience with a candidate.
Even if we go back to 2018, when I was 14, what really got me further into politics was I got to go to an event where a whole slew of candidates from everything from House to state senate to state district to school boards. They came to my mosque and I got to meet them and I shook hands with them and talked to them. And it was really great because it showed me that this is accessible. Now I want to move that forward and show to other people that like, hey, politics is accessible.
C&S: How did the Civic Spring Fellowship help advance your work?
Farhan: The application itself really helped me get my ideas down solid and concrete. And beyond that, the Fellowship itself was great in that we had meetings with other Fellows. So once a week, we had a great space to just bounce ideas off one another and talk to other peers who are doing similar work. We broke out into an Arizona-specific group, and we would talk about the work we were doing or our hopes or fears. And knowing that there were other people trying to make change was also really helpful. And then the support network of adult mentors, that was also very helpful.Become the next Civic Spring Fellow: Apply Today!
C&S: What do you think the larger population needs to understand about young people voting and engaging as citizens?
Farhan: A lot of young people and a lot of people in general are like, “Why bother voting? My vote doesn’t matter.” But falling into that trap will ensure that you don’t get your voice heard. So voting is super important, but it’s not the only thing. Some people think that voting is the be-all-end-all and it’s not. There are a lot of other ways that you can get involved in politics and if you want to see change: organizing, protesting, meeting your elected officials in the off season, talking to friends and debating opinions, bouncing ideas off one another. There are dozens of ways in which people—the average person and young people especially—need to and can get involved.
C&S: Has this work changed how you think about your role in the community?
Farhan: 100%. This work has shown me that anybody can make an impact in the community—including me. It’s also shown me that people are receptive to members of their own community who are trying to make change. Like in terms of the Muslim community, when I worked with the mosque board to set up the mosque event, they were super receptive to the idea and they loved that a youth from their community was doing the work.
I’m just an average guy and I just did it. All I did was type up a proposal and then just get cracking. So anybody can do it. You don’t have to be an elected official or a big activist to get involved.
C&S: You’re 18 years old, a senior in high school: What did your peers think of this work?
Farhan: A lot of my peers are really cynical, and, I’m going to be honest, I am still in a lot of ways too. Especially as Gen Z enters adulthood, we’re realizing that the system isn’t built for us. So we’re working uphill to make it work for us and we can’t lose hope.
A lot of people hadn’t ever really spoken to a candidate or elected official before these forums. It doesn’t have to inspire them to drop all their career aspirations and go into politics, but I’m hoping that it inspires them to at least pay a little more attention to the news.
Real Talk: First-Time Voters
Two first-time voters give C&S President Raj Vinnakota some advice for adults wanting to encourage young people to vote and be civically engaged.
C&S: Throughout this work, did this make you more optimistic or pessimistic about democracy?
Farhan: Overall, I’m going to say optimistic. Largely, and I know this from talking to friends, there was a pessimism among young people about where the country is going and an idea that no matter what you do, it’s going to just continue going in the same sort of way.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of flaws with our system, I’m not going to deny that. But this work showed me that there are differences between the parties and its in these local races where the decisions are happening. So things like school board, city council, water board, these races that two years ago I didn’t know existed, are now my top priorities. When I filled out my ballot, I turned 18 a few days ago, when I filled out my ballot, I was like, “I need to fill out these races.”
This process also showed me that politics is accessible. Every time I met someone to pitch them attending my town hall, it felt like I was meeting a celebrity every time. But now the more I think about it, the more I’m realizing that this is how it should be. These people should be accessible for people and for members of the community and they shouldn’t be sheltered away to a once a month, 50-minute window where people can go and communicate their concerns. They should be out there and going out and doing the outreach.
C&S: How did the Civic Spring experience complement the other places you were learning about civics and civic engagement?
Farhan: I took a US government class in ninth grade and it was fine. But you can’t really compare reading the names of your local officials to actually shaking their hands and speaking with them. And it’s that real-world, experiential learning and hands-on experience that sets things like Civic Spring apart.
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