VOTE Generation: Two young people start campaign encouraging Romania’s youngsters to vote
For many years, youth voter turnout has been low in Romania - a reality mainly visible at the local and general elections (both scheduled again for this year). But Cristi Drăgan and Tushar Advani are two young people who decided to do something about it: they launched the Generatia VOT (VOTE Generation) initiative, using the social media and simple yet catchy messages to encourage the country's youth to go to the polls.
At the 2016 local and general elections, it was clear once again that the low youth voter turnout is a significant problem for Romania: only about 40% of young people between 18 and 24 years old voted in the local elections, and less than a third went to the polls at the general elections. And the reasons are many and varied. The initiators of Generatia VOT said in a press release, for example, that many youngsters see politics as a relatively dull and insipid subject, "because it often comes dressed as a subject for adults." Thus, this movement "has prepared a change of look for politics."
Generatia VOT was started by Cristi Drăgan (opening photo), 22 - a student at the Minerva Schools in the US, and Tushar Advani (photo below), 20 - a young Indian who studied tourism economics at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest. They have both been involved in projects aimed at changing society for the better. Cristi is the co-founder of Opportunity Weekend - a course and volunteer fair for high school students that also has Tushar in the team. They are both co-founders of the online project When It's Over, which in the early months of the pandemic reminded more than 13,000 followers worldwide that they will soon be able to enjoy the little things and freedom again.
As its primary goal is to reach the youth, the Generatia VOT community is mainly active on social media (on Instagram and Facebook). It uses simple, funny, and playful messages to encourage young people to vote without telling them who to vote for. They also use creative GIFs or stickers with the same purpose. So far, the campaign gathered more than 1,400 followers on Instagram and almost 1,000 on Facebook.
But that's not all: Generatia VOT has also left the online and took its messages to the streets. Community members from different parts of the country, such as Bucharest, Brasov, Constanta, or Timisoara, made signs with messages such as "Do you wanna go out for a vote?" or "Love at first vote" and carried them through the cities' streets, to show young people everywhere that a general mobilization is needed at the local elections on September 27.
And the Generatia VOT community plans to continue its work in the upcoming months, as the general elections are coming next in Romania. They want to turn the idea of going to the polls into something cool.
In a short e-mail interview with Romania-insider.com, Cristi Drăgan talked about Generatia VOT's work so far, the reasons why young people don't vote, and future plans.
How and when did the story of Generatia VOT start? How did you come up with this idea?
First of all, we were curious to see the turnout at the 2016 elections, and we were shocked to see that only 40% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 went to the polls in the local elections and less than 30% in the parliamentary elections. We are people of action, so we thought we had to do something, at least for our community (Bucharest). We realized that the media mocked our generation after those elections and that everyone is telling us what to do. We wanted to bring to the market an initiative based on positive energy, cool vibes, and the invitation to vote.
Generatia VOT is an online campaign (on Instagram and Facebook), but it also moves offline from time to time, through street actions of young people taking Generatia VOT's messages directly to youngsters. What are the reactions of those who see the messages of Generatia VOT (both online and offline)? Do you think that your initiative is starting to have an impact on those who follow you?
Online, we managed to reach our target audience very well, and there is a lot of joy and enthusiasm. We have managed to enter into partnerships with NGOs and student organizations across the country, and they help us scale our impact. In the street, we were booed, harassed (fortunately, that happens rarely), and we often heard people shouting "who pays you?" or "you're being manipulated!" People no longer trust civic responsibility. Our campaigns are not political. Mobilizing people to vote is a purely civic endeavor. And no, no one is paying us…
What do you think are the reasons why so many young people prefer to stay away when it comes to elections? Why should young people vote?
First of all, we are not even taught what the elections are, what types of elections exist in Romania, what duties a mayor or a councilor has. The only time we have "civic education" in the school curriculum is when we are in grades 1-4 (at least that was the case for my generation). These courses are necessary in high school, especially in the 10th and 11th grades, when young people turn 18. That is why on our page (in IGTV), we posted the videos of Alexandru Danescu explaining what the local elections are and why it is important to vote.
How do you see Romania's political scene, and what do you think should change to make the youngsters more interested in this topic?
Something very nice that I've noticed in recent weeks is the debates organized by young people. Politicians should get closer to young people and listen to their questions, problems, and curiosities. We need to break the "politics is for adults" paradigm.
Who are Cristi Dragan and Tushar Advani?
Cristi: I studied at the Gheorghe Lazar National College in Bucharest. I'm super passionate about anything that means creativity, and I love to solve problems. I chose to go to Minerva Schools because it was the only faculty in the world that combines the academic part with the practical one; plus, each semester, we will move to another country in the world to learn to adjust to life in a foreign country.
Tushar: He moved to Romania from Mumbai in the 11th grade, because his father worked here since the 1990s. When he arrived in the country, he was looking to make new friends, so he applied to be a junior organizer in Opportunity Weekend, the NGO co-founded by Cristi. They have been friends ever since, working together on many civic initiatives, united by empathy and spontaneity.
What are your future plans? Do you plan to return to Romania after your studies?
Tushar dreams of opening his own hotel.
Cristi doesn't have a concrete plan, but he is looking for new challenges every day and feels like exploring for a little while longer. As for coming back to Romania, I believe that the digital world we live in and the free movement our generation benefits from do not limit us to choosing one country or another. I think I will live in several countries, and of course, one of them will be Romania. Even now, although I am in London with the faculty for a semester, more than a third of the day I work at Generatia VOT because I care about Romania.
The original interview was in Romanian.
Irina Marica, [email protected]
(Photos: courtesy of Cristi Drăgan)