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The International Writers Magazine: Reality Check with James Campion:
Politics is now being viewed as relevant to young peoples' daily lives.

18 IN '08 Parts I &11
James Campion

Young Voices Crying Out In The Wilderness
They told us they would turn the electorate upside-down in '72. They didn't. They told us they'd flood the gates after Nixon went nuts. They didn't. They promised to show up in the 80s', and guess what? And then came the 90s', and well, nothing really. Oh, and after the hemming and hawing and legal hand wringing mania of 2000, the horrors of 9/11, and wars raging on two fronts, they vowed to show up like never before.

But, alas, although the 2004 contribution was considerably better than a little, it was still painfully short of significant. Now they claim they're enthused, primed, and motivated like never before, and in many ways during this historic primary season they've delivered in record numbers; but the question remains: Will the elusive, mercurial, slightly disillusioned and mostly lazy Youth Vote make a serious dent in the body politic this November?

If they do, as they did in many tight state midterm elections in 2006, then it may very well be their voice that decides who the next president of the United States will be.

Late in 2005, a member of this potentially crucial voting block, then 16 year-old student and burgeoning filmmaker, David Burstein, stepped from the shadows of his disappointing predecessors to produce and direct "18 In '08", subtitled, "A Film. A Movement. A Change.", an ambitious documentary utilizing interviews with celebrities, pundits, politicians, and voters of all ages discussing the importance of young Americans to exercise their right to vote.

Released last year, the piece has an idealized, almost emotionally massaged tinge to it, all-but begging the heretofore disenfranchised to at least consider stripping away the layers of immature political apathy for a more hands-on approach. The film is painstakingly nonpartisan and filled with views from all perspectives; poignant, pertinent, and at times humorous, even when not intended.

Burstein could have stopped there, but he did not. He followed the project and its seemingly endless promotion (to date it has been screened over 400 times and helped register more than 21,000 voters) with an organization of the same name, which, by his definition aims to "register, engage, and involve the youth vote in our political process".

This fall the "18 In '08" juggernaut, online at, will visit 50 colleges across the country, that is after launching a celebrity PSA series this summer while also hosting a series of "youth-focused debates and town halls", of which I hope to be part.

But since this is the home office of skepticism and cranky ennui, we put the kid to the test.

James Campion : My favorite quote from your film is former Howard Dean campaign guru, Joe Trippi saying that in 2004 the youth vote was the only demographic that grew since the 2000 election, which is, to say the least, not saying much.
David Burstein: It is true that voter participation between 18 to 24 year-olds increased eleven percent over the previous election, which was a bump over the 2000 numbers, and although I see this as progress, it is definitely not worthy of young people who have a lot at stake in this election. It's a good sign that these numbers are going up, but they need to increase further. Most importantly, we need to raise awareness that the numbers are going up. When we were shooting the film, we found politicians that didn't have these facts on their radar screen, and if we end up having the largest turnout of young voters since receiving the right to vote, which I think will happen, then showing these numbers will significantly impact the system by proving to future candidates that it is a constituency they'll have to pay attention to.
jc: Your film states that 37% of the 29 million possible young voters participated in the 2004 presidential election. Can you juxtapose that with the 1972 election, where, as you say, the greatest numbers turned out?
DB: It was 37 percent compared to about 48 percent in '72, which was the largest in history.
jc: So just about half the possible voter block of 18 to 24 in '72 showed up and far less than that in 2004, which was a significant jump from previously sad showings. Is it crazy to think perhaps we can get to half this year, or perhaps to your way of thinking, that's not good enough?
DB: If we can get to fifty percent or even hit sixty percent, then people will take note that the Youth Vote is one to be reckoned with. If you tally all the votes cast in the primaries this year it equals the totals of many previous general elections, so fifty percent would be a success, but I think we still have to do better than that.
jc: But will it translate to the fall?
DB: Well, thanks to the extended primary against Hillary Clinton the Obama Campaign has the advantage of having run in every state, building offices and student organizations in each with all the names, e-mail addresses, and voter ID's that go with it. So signs point towards an astronomical number of young people voting, even with the fair drop-off rate of disillusioned Clinton voters. And there is also the fact that we've never had a general election where less people voted from any demographic than did in the primary race.
jc: It's my understanding that Obama's campaign, specifically in the smaller caucuses, where he essentially wrapped up the Democratic nomination, utilized energetic young people who were well groomed for political canvassing, and many of these kids were high school age with time on their hands for an old-fashioned ground game.
DB: Oh, yes. The Obama Campaign did unprecedented outreach to high school students, particularly starting with Iowa, where if you were seventeen but were going to be eighteen for the caucuses, the outreach was enormous. This wasn't talked about much, but I think it will be a significant bump in the youth voting numbers in November.
jc: It is pretty much accepted that McCain is going to have to battle for the Youth Vote, which he has promised to contest, have you seen that transpiring as of yet?
DB: To a degree. He's done more to reach out to young voters than Bush had in the previous two elections, let's put it that way. Just today his campaign launched a Facebook application for young voters to sign up and watch videos from the Straight Talk Express. He's done quite a bit with new media. He was one of the first candidates to use YOUTUBE and grant interviews to bloggers. But at the end of the day it comes down to what message young people respond to and there is only so much either candidate can do beyond addressing their issues. And they don't want these candidates to come to campus and talk about legalizing marijuana. They want to be talked to as real voters and earn their respect beyond saying "You are the future" or some other tired refrain, and I think McCain and Obama have done pretty well on that count thus far.

PART II - The Future Of Voting In America June 27th 2008
The Future Of Voting In America

In the second installment of my discussion with filmmaker and activist, David Burstein, as he crisscrosses the country fueling the political fervor of the elusive Youth Vote, we delve into the issues, the Internet, and the cultural impact on the current presidential campaigns. Burstein's documentary, "18 In '08" ( as well as his planned debates and town meetings in 50 colleges this summer into fall has been one of the factors in the recent rejuvenation of young voters in this historical 2008 election season.

jc: What are the main issues for the 18 to 24 block?
DB: Well, in general, college affordability and student loans, but we're incredibly concerned about the economy as well. We're about to enter the job market and many of us have parents whose support we count on for college, and we need them to have good financial backing. Health Care and Global Warming I hear about constantly, but mainly it's the issues that all voters are talking about.
jc: In your discussions with these young voters, do you get the feeling that they are headed for a heap of disillusionment here, by which I mean the executive branch of our federal government might very well have little to do with combating Global Warming, and although the president and congress can do some things to stimulate or wound an economy, it is often minimal on the grand scale. Are they counting on radical change from either of these candidates, and if they don't get it, could you envision many bailing in the next election?
DB: Absolutely. This is why many young people go the non-political track now, like non-government organizations and engaging in their own forms of activism. One of the big challenges for us with this film and our cause is that we must convince these people that you have to pursue both tracks parallel. If you vote and participate in the political process while working on the grass roots side you can really get something done. But I think it's about fifty-fifty anyway. I find that many young people are idealistic and just as many are realistic as well.
jc: Here's my theory of why Barack Obama and to a lesser extent Ron Paul has attracted a preponderance of the Youth Vote: They are not merely standing as an alternative, say like Kerry against Bush in 2004 or even Bush standing against the Clinton legacy in 2000, but presenting themselves as something entirely beyond the normal this vs. that. Is that a fair assessment?
DB: Yeah, I think so. It's a sense of the new, but also a sense of authenticity. Young people are frustrated by the political process, gridlock or polarization, but we also want to vote for something instead of merely an alternative. There is something in the style of McCain and certainly Obama that speaks to that, but it's also in their voting records and how they approach the idea of change. More than anything I think there is a level of trust there for Ron Paul and Obama. They speak their mind and speak in our language, less gobblygook of distant unrelatable facts and figures than a hopeful slant on this idea of change.jc: Have you found that most of the Youth Vote is independent? And I mean that not only in political affiliation, but this penchant to move from each issue independently and without adherence to one party or to one philosophy or another?
DB: Absolutely. There has been a big change on how people view politics going forward, and I think for our generation and every following generation. Young people are much less party-loyal or family-loyal in making up their minds politically. We are taking this responsibility far more seriously and personally, and not merely following in what our parents believed or what we are told by the media or celebrities. I think the days of voting along party lines will die with this generation.
jc: On a scale of one to ten, what does the Internet mean to the Youth Vote now?
DB: Well, on a scale of one to ten I'd rate it at least a twenty. It's making a huge impact in every sense. The first impact is in raising money. Then there's the evolution of the Blog in the last elections cycle. YOUTUBE affected the midterm elections considerably, most notably the George Allen "Macaca" incident which turned him from the leading Republican presidential candidate to being ousted from the senate. Social networking has become effective in that it allows bloggers to become de facto representatives of a campaign, putting out information, sending messages, raising money. But probably the most revolutionizing development is the citizen ad. Now any voter with the material and editing skills can have a voice online, using the medium to make an imprint on political dialogue. Look at Facebook, where yesterday the Obama Campaign was bragging that they have reached one million supporters. The Official Students for Barack Obama organization began online and has now been adopted as an official arm of the campaign. You have candidates giving personal press-free presentations from their offices to the voters on their web sites.
    The Internet influences every dimension of the political and campaign process. In fact, its driving many campaign professional out of their minds. They no longer have complete control over their message. I know that's a long answer, but I feel very passionate about it.
jc: Well, it may be the last true vestige of democracy, which means the good and the bad, because with every positive movement comes the seedy underbelly. And the Internet has its litany of misinformation, scurrilous rumor and unsubstantiated nonsense as well.
DB: This is always going to be true of the Internet. We just have to be more educated on what is credible or not. The Obama Campaign has done a nice job with his smear site that links to the rumors and debunks them.
jc: Describe the whole political zeitgeist in retrospect to your shooting through 2006 to finishing in 2007 and now during your time promoting it while the primaries were happening.
DB: Having candidates has changed things. While we were shooting there was this sense that young people were mostly against things as opposed to focusing on a figure for their issues or positions. The other change is the effect of the Iraq War, which previously students were hot on the trail to protest or in some cases they were fighting it. Unfortunately, Iraq has slipped off the radar, which fueled the Youth Vote in '04 and then '06 certainly. But in a good way it's led to young people beginning to focus on all issues, like right now it's the economy. Before their involvement in the larger issue of war there seemed to be an unawareness that is not there now. There's been a progression in the sense that the war, while being significant, was not as direct a connection to their lives as economic issues relating to their parents and their job futures. Politics is now being viewed as relevant to their daily lives.

© James campion June 27th 2008

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