In the wake of various voter suppression bills across the country, Maxim Thorne continues to raise the voices of young people, especially when it comes to voting rights and democracy.
Thorne, originally from Guyana, lawyer and CEO of Civic influencersvisited the Columbia campus on February 21 to speak to students about the importance of youth voting in society, as well as to address the barriers young people face when it comes to voting, especially young people from color.
“It is very true that young people are the target of voter suppression. It’s very true that there are additional hurdles, but we can always overcome them,” Thorne said. “How do you balance the narrative that yes, I’m oppressed… It takes unfair, very unfair effort.”
During his speech, Thorne said there are approximately 44 million people between the ages of 18 and 29 living in the United States, making them the largest voting demographic. Thorne added that this demographic is the most diverse, but continues to have the lowest voter turnout.
Civic Influencers is an organization based in Lewes, Delaware and founded in 2008. Its mission is to increase the civic power of American youth with a focus on Black, Indigenous and youth of color.
Another key element of Thorne’s speech was the importance of changing the narrative when it comes to voter suppression and the lack of young Americans engaging in the act of voting.
“I could have two different conversations: I could have a very intense and emotional conversation about voter suppression and tell you all the horrible things the right is doing to stop young people and people of color from voting, and I could have everything the world in tears,” Thorne said. “Or, I could come in and say, ‘If you showed up and I showed you the map, you could figure out who wins every election.'”
Thorne’s visit was split into two separate interviews, with question-and-answer sessions for the students in both.
The first morning session was an informal session with various members of the Columbia community, including graduate students from Civic Media. The second conference was held at 12:30 p.m. at the building at 618 S. Michigan Ave. from Columbia with journalism professor Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin’s new innovation and impact course “Defending Democracy” and associate professor Curtis Lawrence’s “College News Workshop” class.
“I hope [the students] left feeling like ‘wow, my vote could be crucial; it could make a big difference, just my vote, my friends’ vote, my associates’ votes, like it really matters and you can have that much impact,” Bloyd-Peshkin said.
In addition to teaching both journalism and the Columbia Experience Innovation and Impact courses, Bloyd-Peshkin is the creator of Colombia votes, a nonpartisan initiative to help Columbia students learn about the voting process and help them register. Columbia Votes also works with students to vote wherever they choose, whether on campus or in their hometown or in person or by mail.
“I really believe in youth voting,” Bloyd-Peshkin said. “I truly believe that young people are the only ones who can truly steer our political future in a better direction and preserve the democracy that we have through their activism and engaging in the process.”
Jordyn Harrison, a freshman graduate student in civic media, attended Thorne’s morning lecture and said one of her biggest takeaways from the discussion was the real power of the youth vote.
“It can take such a small number of people to have such a big difference,” Harrison said. “I think what was encouraging [was] that it has been done before, where young people have influenced the course of things, not just recently, but… historically. … It is really encouraging.
Ally Longo, a deaf major and one of the student voter registration geniuses at Columbia Votes, agreed. Longo said she had always been interested in voting and politics, which in part led her to start working for Columbia Votes.
“One of the interesting things I learned was how important youth voting is because it’s something that gets mentioned but no one really asks why,” Longo said. “So often we think ‘Oh, there are so many people. Our votes don’t matter’, but in fact they do because when we all come together, we can all make an improvement.
In terms of the upcoming election and the engagement of young Americans in the voting process, Thorne said he was hopeful for the future.
“I would dream of being in this generation,” Thorne said, of Gen Z. “Everything that’s happening now makes me feel more optimistic.”