Why was Ori Feibush walking around an Old City phone bank at 6:30 p.m. on the eve of the midterm election?
The controversial Point Breeze developer, who’s got tongues wagging across the city as he gears up to challenge council member Kenyatta Johnson (but not til the primary) was on the horn. He, along with the strivers that make up Philadelphia’s Young Involved Philadelphia, has a big task — motivating millennial voters in the City of Brotherly Love. Their challenge: The demographic hasn’t acted in concert since their role in the wave that swept Barack Obama into office in 2008, and again in 2012.
But that won’t stop them. For the 20 who manned the lines Monday night at Engagement Studios in Old City for a voting “Phone Bank,” it was the feeling that they were doing something about millennial complacency that brought them out to cold call hundreds of people.
“Millennials are the fastest-growing demographic in Philadelphia, but they’re not represented in city government and they’re definitely undervoting,” said Ben Stango, the advocacy chair for Young Involved Philadelphia, the group that organized the event. “They have the potential to sway elections if they’re mobilized.”
YIP — a non-partisan organization — and the volunteers who helped contacted millennials across Philadelphia, focusing specifically on those who are “undervoting.” Stango, 26, said many of those people who took part in the 2012 presidential election, but not the 2013 general election. While this year’s event with YIP was the first of its kind, Stango said the group hopes to grow the advocacy event in the future by raising money, eventually hiring an outside contractor to help the group scale the effort larger.
The volunteers were busy passing on details about polling place location, pitching their marks about why voting in this less-than-inspiring contest between Toms is important. For those who said they weren’t voting, volunteers looked to collect contact information so they can do a deep dive later on why.
“Tomorrow’s very important, and I worry that millennials have become complacent,” Feibush said. “We have to connect on a level that they care about.”
For Feibush, that includes pushing issues like open spaces, bike lanes and — to a broader extent — job creation. While not all those issues matter much in tomorrow’s election that’s focused largely on the gubernatorial race, he said it’s important young people know voting is a part of being civically engaged.
That concern — that this younger generation might become complacent — seemed to percolate through the room. Reuben Wilson, a 24-year-old self-described Philly transplant, isn’t heavily involved with Young Involved Philadelphia, but still gave up his night for the cause.
“Part of it is just recognizing that we live in a democratic system,” Wilson said, “and you may not love how it works, but not doing anything isn’t going to change anything.”
For more information and guide to voting, check out Billy Penn’s Election Day Pocket Guide.