Voting Rocks IM

Ah, the coveted 18-24 year-old voter. Every election year, the public is assaulted with statistics on the apathy of youth, and experts and political pundits debate how to get the demographic registered and voting. Rock the Vote, a non-partisan partner of MTV created in 1990, "engages youth in the political process by incorporating the entertainment community and youth culture into its activities," according to their site. Rock the Vote focuses on getting youths registered and then increasing voter turnout by highlighting current events that affect the lives of young people and encouraging youths to involve themselves in drives, protests, educational events, and even running for office. MTV and Rock the Vote want to make it cool to vote, and, this election year, they have the very specific goal of getting 20 million 18-24 year olds to the voting booths.

Rock the Vote partners with cool people like celebrities, athletes, and musicians to deliver its message and lately has added some cool technologies to its delivery repertoire. Rock the Vote has teamed up with Motorola to deliver Rock the Vote Mobile alerts to interested youths. The text messages include political news and opinions, and signing up nets users a free Rock the Vote ringtone.

The latest hip technological venture for Rock the Vote involves spreading the message of political activism via another popular pastime for most high school and college-aged Americans—instant messaging (IM). Rock the Vote partnered with Meca, provider of branded IM clients, to offer interested young people the Rock the Vote Communicator, a downloadable IM client with various Rock the Vote-themed skins. Teens and young adults can then chat with their friends via instant messaging to communicate about political opinions; encourage each other to get registered, get involved, and vote; and communicate with "street team" volunteers.

Street team volunteers are like camp counselors at Rock the Vote, they encourage, guide, answer questions, and support the participants. The volunteers collect screen names, in addition to other contact information, at various Rock the Vote events and then get youths talking via an IM client about political issues and encouraging them to register to vote. Eventually celebrities connected with Rock the Vote are expected to participate in IM chats as well. As the election draws closer and voter registration closes, street team volunteers will guide the discussion towards moving to the polls and making sure that their newly minted political activists follow through by pulling the lever of their choice on November 2.

Both Meca and Rock the Vote are surprisingly tightlipped about their partnership (Rock the Vote did not respond to inquiries and Meca declined to comment for this story), but their relationship is proving that youths can be motivated to get involved politically through some unexpected avenues. Even if they fail to hit the 20 million mark on November 2, Rock the Vote has impacted the level of activism among a traditionally non-voting demographic by employing the very technology that youths are attracted to recreationally as an educational and discussion tool.