Established in 2003 to build a “progressive governing majority” that could endure for generations, the League of Young Voters (LYV) seeks to “empowe[r] young people nationwide” to “participate in the democratic process and create progressive political change on the local, state and national level[s].” Toward that end, the organization provides “tools, training, and support” designed to help “non-college youth and youth from low-income communities and communities of color” become “serious catalysts for change in their communities”—and thereby impact legal policy and political elections nationwide. LYV’s emphasis on young people is especially significant because current trends in young-voter opinion polls indicate that the so-called “millenial generation” strongly supports the Democratic Party and thus is positioned to help shift American politics and values leftward.
Through its in-house leadership training program, LYV teaches young people a variety of skills such as how to become “sophisticated organizers” in their own communities, how to build multi-racial and multi-issue alliances, how to “hold elected officials accountable” for their actions, and how to lobby policymakers at all levels of government. Key components of this program include a five-day, issue-based bootcamp called the Tunnel Builder Institute; a ten-week experiential training course; and various site-based apprenticeship placements. In 2011 alone, LYV trained and organized thousands of young voters via methods like these.
LYV focuses its attention chiefly on the following issues:
Green Jobs: LYV supports widespread solar-panel installation, wind-turbine construction, and urban co-op farming, as well as the transformation of the U.S. economy to one that is largely free of the fossil fuels whose carbon emissions allegedly cause global warming. In the League’s calculus, such measures are vital to the achievement of genuine “social justice” because “air pollution and toxic waste levels are far more prevalent in lower-income areas of cities” than elsewhere, and thus have a disproportionate effect on poor minorities. LYV identifies Green For All—founded by the revolutionary communist Van Jones—as its ally in the “green jobs” movement.
Election Reform: LYV laments that “many low-income families, students, and other disadvantaged groups are routinely the victims of voter disenfranchisement” as a result of “suppressive laws” such as Voter ID requirements that, while “ostensibly designed to prevent fraud,” are in fact intended to keep poor nonwhites away from the polls. The League cites People for the American Way as an ally in this campaign.
Higher Education: Asserting that “everyone should have the right to an affordable college education,” LYV calls on political leaders and taxpayers alike to “invest” in the ideal of providing young people with “easier access” to the halls of academia. Notably, the League helped pass what it terms the “revolutionary” Opportunity Maine bill, which eliminated most student debt for college graduates who continued to reside and work in that state after completing their schooling. LYV’s ally in its Higher Education campaign is the National Education Association.
Juvenile Justice: By LYV’s reckoning, America’s juvenile-justice system should focus less on punishment and more on rehabilitation efforts that address “the root causes of urban violence.”
Health Care: LYV maintains that health insurance “should be made readily available to hard-working people, whether [by means of funding] from private or public sources.” Of particular concern is the fact that “lower-income youth and youth of color” often cannot afford to buy coverage.
Immigrant Rights: LYV emphasizes that because illegal immigrants “enrich our country with their labor and contributions,” they “deserve dignity and respect” and should be offered “an attainable path towards citizenship” rather than be subjected to “unfair barriers.” Moreover, young illegals who have graduated from high school “should have access to the [college] education they have rightfully earned.” A key LYV ally in this campaign is the American Civil Liberties Union.
To promote the above agendas as broadly as possible, LYV utilizes existing social and cultural networks such as the hip-hop music scene, Facebook, and MySpace to “engage spheres of unlikely voters.” The League’s best-known pilot initiative is TheBallot.org, an online voter-guide tool that has covered hundreds of political candidates in 33 states.
LYV currently consists of 7 local chapters, based in Brooklyn, Florida, Maine, Minnesota’s Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), Ohio, Pennsylvania, San Francisco, and Wisconsin. Formerly a national partner of America Votes, the League is funded in part by George Soros‘s Open Society Institute.
LYV’s executive director is Rob “Biko” Baker, who previously served as the deputy publicity coordinator and young-voter organizer for the Brown and Black Presidential Forum. He is also a frequent contributor to the hip-hop website The Source, and is a board member of the New Organizing Institute.