Activist Afternoons targets voters via text-a-thon

Over 160 volunteers attended the Nov. 5 text-a-thon at Activist Afternoons in Cambridge in an effort to motivate registered voters. Photo by Ian Anderson / Boston University News Service

Ian Anderson
BU News Service

CAMBRIDGE – Boxes of pizza, an aroma of hot coffee and smiling people invested in their phones filled a Cambridge workplace in the heart of Central Square but the gathering wasn’t purely social.

As millions of Americans across the country prepared for the midterm elections by reading up on issues and candidates, over 160 volunteers in Cambridge spent Monday encouraging voter participation at a text-a-thon hosted by Activist Afternoons.

The gathering was one of many the group has hosted since it launched in the fall of 2017.  The first of three around the state, Activist Afternoons hosts weekly events with a different menu of activities – often including meetings, activist training sessions, and text-a-thons – for the Cambridge community at Workbar, a membership-based co-working space on Prospect Street.

The members of the five national and local organizations present at Monday’s text-a-thon used Hustle – the texting platform used for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the 2016 presidential election. For three hours they sent personalized messages to registered voters, reminding them to vote on issues, political parties and candidates this Election Day.

Daniel Curtis, community organizer at Activist Afternoons, said the goal of Monday night’s text-a-thon was to motivate or remind residents of both Cambridge and nationwide to participate, especially younger voters.

“Get in contact with as many people as possible and encourage them to vote,” Curtis said. “Historically, young people are the least likely to vote.”

During the 2014 midterm elections only 17.1 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds showed up at the polls. That was less than half of the already low turnout from the population at large – 41.9 percent of whom voted – according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 Current Population Survey.

Curtis said he thinks a significant cause of low turnout among young people is inexperience

“Doing something for the first time is scary,” Curtis said. “Once these young people vote for the first time, they will be lifelong voters.”

With Gen-Xers and younger generations representing 59 percent of American adults eligible to vote as of April 2018 according to the Pew Research Center, text-a-thon volunteers were hoping the last minute mobilization of younger voters will have a serious effect on election results.

Volunteering at Activist Afternoons in Cambridge, Mass., on Nov. 5, state Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, makes a phone call to a registered voter encouraging them to vote in midterm elections. Photo by Ian Anderson / Boston University News Service.

Among the clicking, tapping and chattering volunteers was state Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, who opted to make calls rather than texting during the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. event.

“I couldn’t really figure out how to work the texting, so I went with calling,” Livingstone laughed.

Out of the five Democratic organizations represented at the text-a-thon, Livingstone chose to work with the Environmental Voter Project and Justice Democrats groups. He noted one of the reasons Democratic organizations specifically tend to focus on mobilizing the younger generations is because they tend to be more worried about social issues and protecting the environment

“Young people are more concerned about social and environmental issues,” said Livingstone, who represents parts of Cambridgeport as well as Boston. “The way we get the Democratic Party to where it needs to be is by convincing people to vote at events like this one.”

Susan Labandibar, the founder of Activist Afternoons, said she sees text-a-thons as the future of activism, especially for engaging younger voters.

“Texting as a medium appeals to younger people and can easily reach tons of voters,” Labandibar said. “I think we will see more voters turn out as result of these texting events.”

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