Do you remember the first time you voted? Were you excited and empowered, or anxious and ambivalent?
This may come as a surprise - but I actually don't remember the first time I voted. It surprised me because I've been a "political news junkie" all my life. But I started thinking about it as I embarked on this project to talk with first time voters who turn 18 this year. 2020 isn't just another election year - it's a presidential election!
I do remember my very early interest in presidential politics. I was drawn to the TV coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. My earliest memory is the 1968 Democratic National in Chicago because we lived outside of the city. I certainly was not plugged into all the political turbulence at such a young age but I recall images of unrest and chaos. My dream then was to be a political news reporter. This year will mark 40 years covering politics. The DNC in Milwaukee will be my 10th national convention.
Here's why I'm excited about the 2020 election and First Vote. I have found four fun, smart and politically engaged students who have turned 18 and will vote for the first time. Together, we will go on this journey to Election Day in November. The goal is not to see who they will vote for but why. What issues are important to them, where they get their information, and who will influence their vote? Here's what I've learned so far - political party is not all that important to them, and they rarely get their news from traditional TV or newspapers. They consume almost all of their political news from online sources, podcasts, social media and YouTube.
My goal was to find four voices with a diverse background. Two students go to public schools, two are in private or chartered schools. Three live in Milwaukee, one is in rural Washington County. I reached out to school administrations and organizations with one request - find me someone who loves to talk politics and will vote for the first time this year.
Meet the First Vote students
Sherlean Roberts was the first student I met. She's a senior at Dr Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy in Milwaukee. She credits the school's founder as having the biggest political impact on her. Dr Fuller is a legendary civil rights activist and education reform advocate. Roberts tells me she became interested in politics after seeing, "how the world is negatively changing." She wants to hear the candidates talk about "education and prevention of violence in my community."
Hunter Acton is a senior at Slinger High School and grew up in Washington County. He tells me his interest in politics began at an early age thanks to his mom. "My mother always kept me in the loop about what was happening," he says. Acton believes immigration laws, education, and gun rights are important issues. He has already registered to vote. "I find it of the utmost importance that we exercise that right."
Riley McAdams is a senior at a Wauwatosa West and has lived in Milwaukee all her life. Her favorite class is AP Politics. "I am aware of how important it is to get involved and help make a change in our political system today," she says. Riley says she is inspired by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez "because of her dedication to her job and helping people." She lists climate change, the income inequality gap, racism, and women’s rights as important issues in 2020.
Alan Angulo is a senior at Marquette University High School. He tells me his interest in politics developed during his sophomore year because "I felt as though identity politics was being framed upon me," which he says, "I don't quite agree with it." Angulo is a second generation Hispanic and would like to see "immigration reform that's both humane, yet protects our border." For now, Entrepreneur and Democratic candidate Andrew Yang has caught his attention. "The things he talks about are going to affect me directly once I become more of an adult."
There will be lots to talk about in the months to come and I expect it will be a vigorous discussion with our first time voters. We'll be introducing you to each of our four voters this week. Check back often at TMJ4.com/FirstVote to see their stories.