18 in 08 is a powerful new documentary with a mission: get young people to vote. Despite the fact that generations before us protested for years to get 18-year-olds the right to vote, the 18-24 age group votes in lower numbers than any other demographic. There are 29 million eligible voters in our age group – if all of them voted in the upcoming 2008 presidential election, we would have the power to potentially decide the outcome of the election.
But despite all those statistics, the reality remains that most young people don’t vote, whether they don’t like politicians or just plain aren’t interested.
Nineteen-year-old David Burstein saw this and wanted to do something to change it, to help young people realize how much politics affects their lives and why they should vote.
Having always had a passion for film, Burstein set out – while in high school – to create a film that would document reasons why young people should care, and collected over 100 hours of footage featuring all kinds of nationally prominent politicians, such as Jeb Bush, John Kerry and Richard Dreyfuss among others.
Now a freshman at Haverford College, Burstein is living the dream: his documentary has been completed and released, and he is managing and running an organization and a movement and trying to inspire his peers. It’s incredible to see someone our age doing all of this – while still balancing it with a full-time courseload and all the other time commitments of a hectic college lifestyle.
I was able to touch base with David over the Thanksgiving holiday for a few minutes and got to hear his thoughts on filmmaking, college, politics, and why it is so crucial for young people to get engaged in the political system.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m 19, a freshman at Haverford College in PA. I have been active in politics for quite a while, pretty much since I could think and talk. I previously co-founded and ran a film festival which became the world’s leading film festival run by high school students for high school students. We ran it for three years and and turned it over to new high school students when we graduated. I took a year off between high school and college to finish this project which I started as a junior in high school.
You’ve been working on this for a long time then! How did you first get the idea to make this film?
Well, I was sitting around with a bunch of friends on election night in 2004, and the next morning, talking about the results. And although young people did turn out in record numbers, we were wondering: why wasn’t it higher? I started thinking about what I could do to change this. Having just worked on a film festival, I thought, wouldn’t this be a great medium to send this message out to young people and encourage them to vote?
So I sort of had an idea and was rolling it around and started shooting [the film] in March of 2005. I was working on it on and off during school before taking a full year off to work on it after I graduated. Then I thought, we could use this as a really good launching pad for a campaign to get out the vote – so now we’re taking the film to the next level to register people to vote, do talkbacks with politicians, we’re doing a 50 state tour and university and high school tour in the fall.
We’re doing events with presidential candidates, film screenings, and using Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube to get a lot of attention for stuff that wasn’t used in the film. We have 100 hours of stuff with about 110 people, including Jeb Bush, John Kerry, Richard Dreyfuss, James Carville, Chuck Hagel, and others – so we’re making lots of their interview footage available online.
How did you get access to all these people?
I just sort of cold called most of them, pleaded my case, and was very persistent – I told them you need to do this, it’s about the future of our country! I was emailing and calling a lot, sometimes everyday. Also it started with a handful of people in the beginning like my local Congressman and such, but then the list grew and got more impressive so more people would agree to do it and it kind of snowballed.
It started with mainly me telling staffers that it was really important and trying to stay on their radar screen since I’m not a major institution. If the New York Times calls, it’s easy for them to stay on a congressional staffer’s radar screen, but for me, it’s a lot more challenging, so I had to work harder at it to make sure they didn’t forget me and gave me a chance.
What are some of the main reasons, in your opinion, that our age group votes in such low numbers?
Well, I think it’s related to two major things – one is frustration and cynicism and disillusion that young people have with the political process. [In] our lives [we] have seen things like Monica Lewinsky, scandals in the Bush administration, partisanship, polarization, etc – these things are not encouraging people to get involved. Our generation has a lot of passion for issues and causes, like gay rights, abortion, Darfur, or college affordability, but people don’t see political process as helping those issues, so politics is not high on their priority list!
A second thing is lots of well-intentioned people who say they’ll vote today, but just never get around to it. If you’re not already engaged in thinking/talking about politics before age 18, it’s pretty late in the game to start at 18 because your lifestyle is already developed and established. So young people should get involved in politics before they turn 18 so then they’ll be sure to vote and continue voting when they are of age.
What do you think can be done about this?
One, we’re trying to engage people on really a peer-to-peer level. People often talk down to or sort of marginalize young people by telling people they need to vote. We want to try to empower people, legitimize their frustrations, have more conversations and have real discussions about these issues that are affecting them.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for someone to come to college without ever having had a real political discussion. It’s so important for people to reach out to those they know and encourage them to learn more. It’s about talking and asking what their interests are, and trying to connect it back to politics. So many people see a disconnect between their lives and politics. But what’s going on is relevant to your lives, and you need to take a stand and make your voice heard now.
Celebrity outreach is effective, but you can’t put all your chips in that bag. Film, role models – we have to try lots of things at once instead of focusing on one method to engage people. There’s no one right way, but rather a lot of ways, since our generation is incredibly eclectic and diverse – different people need to be reached out to in different ways.
What do you aim to do by making this film?
I hope it will be something that encourages people to vote, be involved, get engaged, take a stand in the political process. If enough young people vote – and there are 29 million people aged 18-24 – if enough vote then we have created a youth voting bloc and then politicians who will start paying attention to us, because we will have proven that we vote and our issues will become important to people. Politicians respond to those who elect them. I hope young people will understand that if we all get involved and do this together we can create that youth voting bloc and really command attention for the issues that matter to our age group.
How can people get involved in the movement?
We’re using the film as a centerpiece for discussion, engaging people and getting them to TALK. We’re screening the film and then having these talkbacks with politicians and elected officials afterwards. So we watch the film and then really take it to the next level by getting all your questions answered right away. These sorts of things we’re doing more on campuses all across the country. We’re encouraging people to come to a screening, get a DVD, then show it to five other people and spread it in a peer-to-peer engagement method. We have a product which can be distributed virally from person to person and spread the message that way. We also want to bring young people into contact with politicians more.
Now that the film itself is done, what other work/projects are you doing?
Well, we finished film in June. Our main focus is screening the film across the country on an ongoing basis followed by talk backs with political experts and students, followed by voter registration. We’re working on a high school initiative, and getting the film to every high school; we’re doing a 50-state tour for next summer. We’re working on forums with the presidential candidates, working on putting together a college and high school tour in the fall, a t-shirt campaign, and a celebrity outreach campaign.
We’re also working with several organizations like Declare Yourself, Mobilize.org, Why-Tuesday?, Project Vote Smart, Generation Engage, College Republicans and College Democrats, Unity08, Roosevelt Institution, and a number of other groups. We’re doing a lot through email, and also developing a media campaign at the moment through January, and putting together an advisory board which will include prominent people in politics, entertainment, and media.
Sounds like you have a full plate. Who helps you accomplish all of this?
We have a fantastic group based out of New York, CrossBorders, they do new media, viral marketing, and a lot of new leading edge film production, they produced the film with me and are now managing the project with me. We also have several interns, assistants, and a PR Firm and we’re trying to recruit a lot of volunteers.
So…where can people see the film?
Buy the DVD! It’s available on the website (www.18in08.com). There are some clips available on our website also. If you’re interested in doing a screening, send us a request to set it up on our website email email@example.com. Right now you can go to a screening or buy the DVD. There will also be a seven minute version that will air on Current TV starting probably next month. And, there are excerpts on YouTube (www.youtube.com/18in08), Facebook, and our website.
What would you tell UChic readers about why they should vote?
If you want to go on in life and get married and buy a house, this is affected by the government; the kind of car you have, rates for your house, gas prices, everything. It seems somewhat distant, but politics affects what kind of life you can live and how much you can spend on other things in your life and what kind of economy you will enter one day.
I know it doesn’t sound incredibly exciting, but these are real things that the government controls that are going to fundamentally affect your life. If you’re looking for a job, what does the government do to encourage new jobs? This will affect whether you can get a good job and what kind of lifestyle you can have.
The point is that everything in our lives can connect back to politics. Like it or not, the government controls a large amount of what we can and cannot do in our lives. You can fight it if you want, but it’s to your advantage to become educated about it and get engaged. Then at least you can try to have a voice. It might not be easy to get excited about some of these issues, but they will affect you anyways. Even the issue of college affordability affects a lot of college students. In the 2006 election, soon after the Democrats took over Congress, they cut interests rates on college student loans.
Want more information or want to get involved in the movement? Check out the 18in08 website at www.18in08.com. And also don’t forget to check 18in08 out on Facebook and YouTube.